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See GALLERY Sporting Injuries for pictures.
Update (2008): “Sport cause > 40,000 eye injuries each year in the US . Most are
Prevent Blindness America reports that 90% of sports-related eye injuries can be prevented.
Basketball and baseball cause the most,l then water and racquet sports.
TPatiewnts are < 30 yrs.
Children are vulnerable due to underdeveloped depth perception and difficulty judging the
position of a flying ball. Safety goggles are advised for children.
Types of injury
Three types of eye trauma:
1.Corneal abrasion.
2.Blunt injuries occur from impact.
3.Penetrating injuries..
Symptoms and evaluation
The warning signs of potentially serious eye are:
• Visual loss 

• Bleeding on the surface or inside the eye 

• Tears in the outer ocular walls 

• A foreign body inside the eye

The evaluation of sports-related eye injuries is the same as for other types of eye trauma.
More emergent injuries, such as head trauma with loss of consciousness, are always treated
Prompt first aid after injury.
Wear specially designed protective eyewear. Such eye guards, while they cannot eliminate
risk, greatly reduce the chance of ocular injury. Regular eyeglasses and contact lenses do
not offer adequate protection from sports injuries.
Racquet sports—Stricter standards for eyewear for racquet sports have helped reduce the
number of eye injuries from these activities. Research done at the UIC Eye Center and
elsewhere has led to the improvement of these eye protection devices.
Today, the standard eye guard designed for use in sports such as racquetball, baseball and
basketball is made of polycarbonate (plastic) and has closed lenses and sports frames.
Avoid open lenses, as a small ball traveling at high speed can be compressed through the
opening and cause severe eye damage.
Collision sports—Total head and face protection is essential for any collision sport, for
example, a helmet in football and a face mask in hockey. In hockey the risk of eye injury is
not so much from collision as from a flying puck. The standardization and use of face masks
in organized amateur ice hockey in Canada led to a 66 percent reduction in eye injuries.
The identification of patterns in sports eye trauma is important in helping prevent many of
these injuries. The National Eye Trauma System (NETS) is collecting data on the frequency
and types of eye injuries, including those due to sports. The UIC Eye Center is one of 50
regional eye trauma centers that are sending the data to NETS”.

• conjunctival lacerations/foreign body/oedema 

• subconjunctival haemorrhage 

• hyphaema 

• traumatic mydriasis 

• lens injury 

• retinal injuries 

• orbital injury 

• chemical burns 

• penetrating injuries 

• prevention of eye injuries

Sporting injuries to the face are very common, especially to the eyes, ears, nose and teeth.
The eye may be injured even though it is protected by the reflex lid closure and the bony

High risk sports includes basketball (fingers and elbows), racquet sport (badminton and
squash) and high-velocity contact sports (martial arts and football). Effective daily
performance, relies heavily upon adequate visual acuity, so it is important to perform
routine visual acuity assessments in pre-competition examinations.

Many ocular injuries are preventable. Remember:
1. Protective eye wear is important eg, polycarbonate spectacles or goggles in high
risk environments (high risk sports, working with corrosive substances). Contact
lens offer no protection at all! 

2. First Aid in common ocular injuries is copious washing with bland water for chemical injuries/splashes to the 
eye;  gentle handling with nocompression or forced opening of the eye in suspected
penetrating injuries 

3. In the event of an eye injury, early medical evaluation and ophthalmic review.

Contact sports should be strongly discouraged and use of protective eyewear enforced in the
presence of only one good eye (eg, in severe amblyopia (lazy eye), ocular trauma,
infections), history of retinal detachments or presence of retinal tears; diabetic
retinopathy; Marfan’s syndrome; Homocystinuria; severe myopia (as the elongated globe
is at risk for retinal injuries) and recent eye surgery.
History and examination is essential (Fig. 1). Include a check list for eye injuries (Fig. 2).
Thorough examination of the anterior segment requires slit-lamp biomicroscopy with
fluorescein stains to show corneal defects (bright green under normal light and bright yellow
under blue light). Local anaesthetic (amethocaine 0.5%) may be helpful if pain restricts
adequate examination but should never be used to relieve pain for the extension of sporting
play. Short-acting mydriatics (0.5% tropicamide) may be used to visualize the fundus.
Note the danger signs of potentially serious eye injury (Fig. 3). Have available the
essentials of emergency kit for eyes (Fig. 4).
Figure 1  

History and Examination


Management of eye trauma involves consideration of injuries to both of the globe and the adnexae 
(lids, lacrimal apparatus and orbit).


History   Check for:


1.           Symptoms experienced – pain, blurred vision, diplopia, 
decreased visual acuity, diminished visual fields, photophobia, 
floaters or flashes, epiphora (water eye), altered facial 

2.           Possible intraocular foreign body – velocity of injury or 
particles, type of particles involved – sand, iron;  blunt injury vs 


3.           Other injuries sustained and if fellow eye is also 


4.           General medical and ophthalmic history.


5.           Type of chemical and time of injury.


Examination   Good ophthalmic examination requires:


1.          Adequate illumination.


2.          Adequate magnification with hand held monocular or 
binocular loupe, ophthalmoscope, slit­lamp biomicroscopy.


3.          Local anaesthetic drops and short acting mydriatics, and 


4.          Eyelid speculum.
Figure 2 

Check List for Eye Injuries


Visual Acuity ∙                    Estimate with a Snellen chart or simple reading of 
differing newspaper font sizes/sign­boards/counting fingers and 
perception of light at various distances.


∙                    Pinhole vision.


∙                    Always done on each eye separately, before instillation 
of eye­drops (mydriatics) and with the best corrected vision (wearing 
glasses if necessary). The exception is chemical injuries (eg line 
markings) where washing of the eye takes precedence over 

Eyelids and Lacrimal  ∙                    Eversion of eyelids is necessary for a complete eye 
System examination. (Instruct patient to look down with their chin elevated).


  ∙                    Inspect for sub­tarsal foreign bodies and signs of 



  ∙                    Lacerations of the upper eyelids may affect the levator 
muscle whilst lacerations of the medial eyelids or canthus commonly 
involve the lacrimal system. Lacerations may involve the orbit itself.  
  Simple bruising may mask an underlying lacrimal system damage!!!

Cornea, ∙                    Examination using a magnifying lens or a loupe.


and Sclera ∙                    Look for surface irregularities, perforations, 

  subconjunctival haemorrhages, iris prolapse, foreign bodies etc. with 

Pupil ∙                    Note – size, shape, irregularity, iridodonesis 
(tremulousness of the iris due to lack of support (eg. Lens 
subluxation), abnormal light reflexes, anisocoria (unequal pupil size).


∙                    Swinging torch sign indicates retinal or optic nerve 
damage (relative afferent papillary defect).  A positive RAPD involves 
papillary dilation when a light is swung from the normal to the 
abnormal eye.
Figure 2 (Cont’d)

Anterior Chamber  ∙           Any haziness or blood should be noted, and depth of anterior 
Fundus chamber (versus other eye).

∙           Fundus examination may be difficult to interpret in small pupils 
or hazy media but any definite abnormalities must be noted.


∙           Using an ophthalmoscope – look for the red reflex and any 
changes in this reflex eg opacities, grey colour (in retinal detachment).

Visual Fields ∙            Examined carefully and any defects noted.

Ocular Movements  

  ∙            Examine for limitation of movement, diplopia and corneal light 
reflection to determine if the eyes are at the same level.


Fellow Eye ∙           Always remember that the patient has two eyes!


Face ∙           Exophthalmos, enophthalmos.


∙           Look for signs of orbital fracture, nerve palsies, altered facial 



General Examination ∙           Ensure that there are no other more urgent injuries sustained.

Figure 4

Essentials of emergency kit for eye injuries

Visual acuity card, pin hole



Eye­wash (plastic squeeze bottle)

Eye shield (plastic/metal)

Topical anaesthetic (amethocaine)
Applicator sticks

Antibiotics and short acting mydriatics


Plastic sandwich bags

Eye speculum

Figure 3 

Danger signs of potentially serious eye injury

Sudden decrease/loss of vision






Foreign body sensation


Irregular shaped pupil


Flashes and Floaters








Pain on movement of the eye

And loss of field vision.
Non-Penetrating Injuries
Conjunctiva Lacerations
The conjunctiva may be torn in sporting injuries to the eye but is seldom serious and
seldom requires suturing. It is important to exclude lacerations to the orbit itself(i.e. scleral
penetration). Never apply ointment to the eye if penetrating lacerations are suspected.
Refer to ophthalmologist.
Conjunctival Foreign Body
Commonly occurs when dirt or sand is thrust into the eye in the course of being tackled in
contact sports with facial contact with the ground. It is usually very painful and obvious;
provided the eyelids are everted during examination. If high velocity injury, consider
intraocular penetration.
• Wash with sterile saline or water, or use a sterile cotton bud to remove. 

• Evert eyelids to ensure removal of all foreign bodies (Fig. 5). 

• Refer to ophthalmologist if removal of foreign body is not successful.

Conjunctival or Eyelid Oedema:
• Eyelid oedema: apply crushed ice in a plastic sandwich bag taped to the eye. 

• Conjunctival oedema (severe chemosis): tape all edges of a plastic sheet around the
eye to create a “moist chamber” to prevent drying of the conjunctiva.

Corneal Foreign Body

Usually arises from the same mechanism as with conjunctival foreign body. Metallic foreign
bodies tend to stick and leave a rust ring upon removal (Fig.).
• Anaesthetise and stain the eye with Fluorescein/Amethocaine to assist with
examination and procedure. 

• Stabilise the patient’s head, eyes (ask patient to look at a point) and open eyelids. 

• Remove by gentle leverage with a sterile 24-gauge needle under magnification and
bright illumination; ideally using a slit-lamp. 

• All corneal foreign bodies overlying the pupil must be referred to the
ophthalmologist for removal. 

• If rust-ring remains: chloramphenicol and mydriatics drops or ointments, pad eye,
review in 24 hours when the rust-ring often separates easily (Fig. 7).

The following are common injures seen after a blunt ocular injury:

Corneal Abrasions
• Chloramphenicol ointment, cyclopentulate 1% (dilates pupil and the accompanying
decrease in ciliary spasm increases comfort) and pad firmly.

• Review 24 hourly, and continued padding, until fluorescein stained abrasions not
• Look for: sub-tarsal foreign bodies, corneal lacerations, signs of infection.

• Padded eyes should not be disturbed for swifter healing, but the eyes should be re-
examined 24 hourly for presence of infection.
• Contact lenses must not be worn until complete healing and local anesthetics should
never be used as long term analgesics as it disrupts the corneal healing process.
• Tetanus prophylaxis must be considered for all corneal injuries.


Corneal Lacerations
A laceration is an extension of an abrasion and must always be treated with great care.
Refer to ophthalmologist.
• Assume penetrating injury!!! 

• Do not increase intraocular pressure: by forcing eyelids open, squeezing eye closed,
pressure on eye, physical activity. Increased intraocular pressure in the presence of a
penetrating injury may lead to decompression and loss of the globe. 

• Lightly pad and transfer to hospital with ophthalmological department. 

• No topical preparation if perforation suspected. 

• X-ray or ultrasound to exclude intraocular foreign bodies.

Subconjunctival Haemorrhage (SCH)
Common injury arising from a blow to the eye, weight lifting or scuba diving where there is
a change in intravascular pressure (Fig.8). It can also occur in very trivial injuries or
spontaneously (usually in the elderly).
• No treatment as it usually settles in 1 – 3 weeks.

• Beware

○ hypertension: must investigate further. 

○ no posterior limit to SCH: possible orbital or cranial injury that must be
excluded by careful examination and radiological investigations. 
○ frequent SCH: possible blood dispraises need to be excluded. 

○ SCH may conceal a sclera rupture; indicated by a collapsed appearance of
the eye.
Haemorrhage into the anterior chamber by small iris vessels. This is an extremely
common sports related injury usually following g blunt trauma (hit by a squash ball,
shuttlecock). A serious condition in children due to a high incidence of a more severe
secondary haemorrhage, usually leading to a severe form of glaucoma (Fig. 9).
Symptoms: blurred vision, red eye, pain, photophobia, drowsy (due to concussion or
Signs: hazy anterior chamber that settles within a few hours to form a fluid level when
sitting upright, slowly reactive and irregular pupil (traumatic mydriasis), associated orbit,
ciliary body, retinal damage are common.
• Ocular emergency due to high rate of rebleed. 

• Pad both eyes, sedation, absolute bed-rest with head elevated, no strenuous
• Hospitalise and obtain an ophthalmological consult.  

• Ophthalmic follow-up to detect/manage complications: (rebleed, secondary
glaucoma, cataracts, corneal staining).
Cyclopegics may be considered for relief of ciliary spasms to increase comfort.
Topical steroids.
Traumatic Mydriasis/Iritis
Common in blunt injuries due to damaged iris sphincter and is often associated with
accommodative paresis. May recover spontaneously. Traumatic iritis may also lead to a
miosis (Fig.10).
Symptoms: blurred vision, photophobia, pain.
Signs: irregular and minimally reactive pupils in traumatic myadriasis.
Treatment: exclude other ocular injuries; ophthalmic review 
Avulsion of a portion of the iris root in severe blunt trauma. A 360° iris root avulsion may
occur in very severe injuries. It is always associated with a hyphaema and is managed as
such. Retinal dialysis must be excluded.
Lens Injury
Traumatic lens subluxation or dislocation may be present and results in indodonesis or
phacodonesis. Vitrous humour may also appear in the anterior chamber of the eye.
Contract formation is more common with penetrating injuries and is usually not seen until
days or weeks later. The pattern of the cataract is typical of trauma with the anterior and
posterior layer of the lens affected. Lens injury requires urgent hospitalisation and
ophthalomologcal consult.
Posterior segment involvemet in ocular trauma
Not uncommon such as choroidal ruptures and haemorrhage; retinal oedema (especially in
the macular region), tears, haemorrhage and leading to detachments and optic nerve
damage potentially resulting in visual loss. Thus if visualization of fundus is difficult
(vitreous haemorrhage) or posterior segment is suspected, urgent hospitalization and
ophthalmological consult is required,
Retinal Injuries
Haemorrhage and oedema usually after the macular region and may not necessarily be
associated with anterior segment injuries. Peripheral oedema may be asymptomatic and
resolve in several weeks without any permanent sequelae.
Symptoms: blurred vision, sudden shower of floaters.
Signs: haemorrhage may be seen n within the retina or in the vitreous, whitish elevation of
the retina in oedema (best appreciated using a slit-lamp or indirect ophthalmoscope),
decreased papillary reflex.
Retinal detachments/dialysis commonly follow severe blunt injuries with the temporal
quadrant most often affected (Fig. 11). It is usually secondary to retinal tears or dialysis.
Supero-temporal detachments affects the macular earliest as gravity assists in the process
of detachment. Retinal detachment, especially with muscular involvement, leads to visual
loss thus it is an ocular emergency. Most detached are now treated with lasers.
Symptoms: flashes, floaters (new dark ones, sudden showers) dark curtain coming down
over vision.
Signs: early detached retina appears elevated and once detached, becomes grey in
appearance with the vessels being black, red-reflex becomes grey, decreased papillary
Choroidal rupture follows severe blunt trauma and is usually associated with a retinal
haemorrhage. Examination shows a whitish retinal area circumscribing the optic disc.
Prolonged rest is needed for recovery.
Optic nerve may be injured from direct injury but more commonly follows blunt head
injury with no ocular damage, producing permanent blindness. Fracture of the optic canal is
not commonly found. The visual loss is most likely a result of tearing of the nutrient vessels
to the nerve by the shearing stress. Examination may reveal abnormal papillary light reflex
and a pale, swollen disc.
Orbital Injury
May or may not be associated with fracture of orbital bones. Retrobulbar haemorrhage and
oedema may lead to exophthalmos and limitations of eye movements with diplopia, even in
the absence of blowout fractures (Fig.12).
Blow out fracture (Figs.13 and 14). Occurs in severe blunt injuries that suddenly increases
the intraorbital pressure markedly. Punching kicking or being hit in the eye with a squash
ball commonly results in a blow out fracture. The strong orbital margins usually remain
intact whilst the thin orbital floor, offering little resistance, may fracture. Intraorbital
contents may herniated through the fracture site and consequently become trapped within.
Orbital floor and the medial wall are the most common fracture site.
Clinical features include:
• Periocular signs: ecchymosis, oedema, subcutaneous emphysema. 

• Enophthalmos: usually with a downwards displacement as the intraorbital contents
herniated through the fractured floor. A narrowed palpebral fissure and deep superior
sulcus may be seen.  

• Intraorbital nerve anaesthesia (orbital floor fractures): lower lid, cheek, side of
nose, upper lip, upper teeth and gums. 

• Supra orbital paraesthesia from fracture of orbital roof. 

• Diplopia: inferior rectus and orbital fat is commonly trapped in the fracture side,
limiting vertical movements. Limitation of movement may also be due to oedema,
haemorrhage, muscular damage. 

• Ocular damage: must be assessed.

Medial wall fracture usually occurs with floor fracture and the following must be considered:
• Nasolacrimal duct involved leading to occlusion and epiphora and commonly a
secondary diacrocystitis. 

• Subcutaneous emphysema is more common and is usually the initial presentation.
This is accentuated by the patient blowing their nose, which should be discouraged
as it may blow infected sinus contents intraorbitally. 

• Medial rectus entrapment
• X-rays may demonstrate a maxillary sinus clouding, herniated contents into maxillary
sinus, air in the orbit, fracture (very rarely seen). CT scan offers better resolution
and should be used in doubtful cases.

• Antibiotics to prevent orbital cellulites, especially if maxillary sinus involved. 

• Light padding of the eye and instruct patient not to blow their nose. 

• Ophthalmological consult. 

Treatment is usually conservative, as from fractures will unites, otherwise surgery. 

Alkali and Acid Burns
Alkali and acid injuries to the eye are ocular emergencies. Line markings on sporting fields
contain lime and may result in a chemical injury to the eyes (Figs. 15 and 16).
• First aid involves instillation of topical anesthetics and oral analgesics, washing
copiously with water or sterile saline; eyelids must be everted to ensure all
chemical/particles are removed (especially in lime injury). 

• neutralizing chemicals. 

• Immediate hospitalisation and ophthalmic consult. 

• The immediate injury often appears deceptively mild but can lead to severe damage,
especially with alkali burns as it penetrates deeply into the eye, producing gross
corneal and conjunctival scarring, iritis, uveitis, lens change, secondary glaucoma,
phthisis bulbi.

Radiant Burns
Ultraviolet light causes epithelial damage to the conjunctiva or corneal surface. This is
common in water or snow sports; where there is ample surface reflections of the UV-light.
Symptoms: excruciating pain, blepharospasm, epiphora, photophobia, developing a few
hours later.
Signs: Multiple small epithelial defects over corneal surface visualized with fluorescein

• Mild cases – soothing drops (eg liquifilm and albalon) 
• Severe cases – hydrocortisone ointment, firm padding, systemic analgesics. 

• hese cases usually settle with minimal sequelae. 


Heat burns by fire usually have accompanying facial burns and require hospitalisation and
specialist attention.
Penetrating Injuries
Penetrating injujires may always be suspected or excluded in all ocular injuries. The signs
and hyphaema, subconjunctival haemorrhage, asymmetrical depth of anterior chamber and
difference intraocular pressures. If the history is suggestive, then assume a penetrating
injury (Figs. 17 and 18).

Teardrop shaped pupil strongly suggests a corneal perforation and iris prolapse, with the
apex pointing to the perforation. Beware that subconjunctival haemorrhages may conceal a
scleral perforation.
• Do not manipulate the eye, forcefully open the eye for detailed examination or
attempt removal of an obvious penetrating foreign body (eg nail in the eye) as this
may cause further damage. 

• No drops, light pad only. 

• Light padding and urgent transfer to hospital, ophthalmological consult. 

• X-ray or CT done to exclude intraocular foreign body.

If there is no intraocular foreign body, meticulous repair with microsurgical techniques.
However, the prognosis is much worse if the lens is damaged, or if ocular contents extruded.
Intraocular foreign body occur after high=velocity projectile injuries (Figs. 19 and 20).
Visual loss may result from: direct damage to ocular structures, infection or retained foreign
particles (especially copper or iron). The penalty for leaving copper or iron particles is loss
of the eye due to dispersion of the particles, occurring up to years later. Non-reactive
particles such as glass or plastic are best left alone unless they can be removed without
much harm to the eye.
Prevention is important (Fig. 21).
Figure 21

Prevention of Eye Injuries


*     High risk sports     ­   squash (small ball

                                          fits inside the orbit)


­         cricket (large ball

outside orbit)


­         UV radiation from



­         boxing, wrestling,

martial arts


*      High risk athletes   ­    Functional one­eyed

                                             athlete (only low 

                                             contact sports  with

                                             eye protection





∙         Use eye protection (polycarbonate 3mm centre thickness, 
2 mm for low contact;  with sturdy frame and posterior rim or 
moulded temple;  anti­fog treatment; have properly fitted.


After injury


*    Return to sport when eye comfortable with         

Good vision and “valsalva manoeuvre” is safe.