Look Sharp: How to Choose Protective Eyewear

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

The appropriate glasses can prevent injuries and save your vision.

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Choosing the right protective eyewear can stave off needless eye injuries both at work and at play for adults and children, according to a leading Massachusetts ophthalmologist.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), Americans will buy eyeglasses 85 million times this year. Unfortunately, most people spend more time shopping for a car, a computer, or even a pair of jeans than for their glasses.

But choosing and wearing the right protective eyewear -- especially among people who wear contact lenses or who have had corrective eye surgery -- can be invaluable in terms of protecting sight and preventing eye trauma, writes Paul F. Vinger, MD. Vinger, an ophthalmologist in Concord, Mass., and a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, published an article on the subject in the May 2000 issue of the Review of Ophthalmology.

First and foremost, all lenses should be made of polycarbonate, he writes. Polycarbonate is the strongest lens material available, so it's also the best choice for all safety glasses and sports goggles.

It is also important that "all polycarbonate lenses absorb ultraviolet light and are scratch-resistant; no further ultraviolet or anti-scratch coatings are needed," Vinger writes. The sun's ultraviolet rays can be harmful to the eyes.

To help you find the best pair of glasses for your needs, your ophthalmologist may ask about your work, your hobbies, and what sports you play, Vinger says. For example, if you work with power tools, goggles with polycarbonate lenses are necessary. Make sure the label indicates that the goggles meet the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1 standard. ANSI sets the safety standards for lenses.

Proper eye protection is also a major concern for all sports enthusiasts, Vinger writes, especially those participating in certain high-risk sports, including racquetball, tennis, squash, handball, ice hockey, badminton, archery, baseball/softball, fencing, boxing, and karate.

"For sports that have the potential for eye contact with body parts, a ball, racket, or stick, 3 millimeter thick polycarbonate lenses ... are recommended," Vinger writes.

And once you get them, you have to wear them, Monica L. Monica, MD, PhD, an ophthalmologist in private practice in New Orleans and a spokeswoman for the AAO, tells WebMD.

"It's not worth the loss of an eye for the inconvenience of putting on a pair of sports or safety goggles," Monica tells WebMD. "With today's available fashion eyewear, everyone can find a safe, fun, and fashionable pair of glasses. If you have just spent $4,000 on laser eye surgery, you need to protect your investment." Be sure to wear sunglasses or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses whenever you play sports, she says.

"If you are an adult with one good eye and one lazy eye, you must, must, must wear protective sports goggles," she says. All adults who see well with both eyes should wear sports goggles when playing high-impact sports, Monica says.

Parents must make sure that their children's glasses or goggles have polycarbonate lenses, too, she says. "If the child plays any sports, they should be in polycarbonate sports goggles with their correction, because about 20% of eye injuries in children up to age 17 occur because the child is not wearing goggles," Monica tells WebMD. "These injuries include everything from scratches to the eye to more serious blows to the eyes that can cause blindness."

Sports goggles should carry a seal from the Protective Eyewear Certification Council, she says. "This seal tells parents that this piece of equipment is safe," she says.

Originally published June 14, 2000.

Medically updated May 16, 2003.

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