Background: Although eye injuries constitute a small percentage of high school and college sports injuries, they have the potential to be permanently debilitating.
Hypothesis: Eye injury rates will vary by sport, sex, and between the high school and college age groups.
Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.
Level of evidence: Level 3.
Methods: Data from eye injury reports in high school and college athletes were obtained from the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System, High School Reporting Information Online (HS RIO) database over a 10-year span (2005-2006 through 2014-2015 school years) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance Program (ISP) over an 11-year span (2004-2005 through 2014-2015 school years). Injury rates per 100,000 athlete-exposures (AEs), injury rate ratios (RRs), and 95% CIs were calculated. Distributions of eye injuries by diagnosis, mechanism, time loss, and surgery needs were also examined.
Results: A total of 237 and 273 eye injuries were reported in the HS RIO and the NCAA ISP databases, respectively. The sports with the highest eye injury rates (per 100,000 AEs) for combined high school and college athletes were women's basketball (2.36), women's field hockey (2.35), men's basketball (2.31), and men's wrestling (2.07). Overall eye injury rates at the high school and college levels were 0.68 and 1.84 per 100,000 AEs, respectively. Eye injury rates were higher in competition than practice in high school (RR, 3.47; 95% CI, 2.69-4.48) and college (RR, 3.13; 95% CI, 2.45-3.99). Most injuries were contusions (high school, 35.9%; college, 33.3%) and due to contact (high school, 89.9%; college, 86.4%). Only a small percentage of injuries resulted in time loss over 21 days (high school, 4.2%; college, 3.0%).
Conclusion: Eye injury rates and patterns vary by sport, sex, and between the high school and college age groups. Although severe injuries do occur, most eye injuries sustained by high school and college athletes are minor, with limited time loss and full recovery.
Clinical relevance: Additional focus needs to be placed on preventing eye injuries at the collegiate level in women's and men's basketball, women's field hockey, and men's wrestling.
Keywords: athletes; college; epidemiology; eye injuries; high school.