Like a baseball bat or a helmet, proper and protective vision correction is necessary equipment for sports. Whether this is in the form of glasses, contact lenses, surgery or a combination of these, several critical factors must be considered when making a selection. The two most obvious are vision and safety. Indeed, these are the two considerations that matter most to doctors. But it doesn’t end there.
If you’re a competitor looking to achieve peak athletic performance, visual correction than enhances, rather than impeding your vision is necessary. After all, your eyes work in tandem with the rest of your body and play an important role in coordination and response times. Clear vision is therefore essential when playing sports. It has to be sharp and stable, meaning there shouldn’t be any intermittent blurring. Comfort is also a concern, since the last thing you want on your mind as you’re going for gold is the distraction caused by uncomfortable eyes.
For these reasons and others, athletes have particularly demanding needs when it comes to vision correction.
Options for Athletes
Whether you are a competitive athlete or a recreational sports enthusiast, you will need crisp, consistent vision delivered by a device that’s safe and that involves minimal distraction during play. Discomfort and blurred vision can result in slower reaction times and, ideally, should be avoided.
The three options for correcting refractive errors are glasses, contact lenses and refractive surgery. Here are some considerations for each:
• Glasses. Sunglasses, sport goggles and other forms of safety eyewear are needed in many sports and can be obtained with built-in prescriptions. This is a particularly good option for sports that require some sort of eye shield. Also, contact lens wearers shouldn’t wear their lenses for certain activities, such as swimming. As such, prescription swim goggles can provide a helpful alternative.
• Refractive Surgery. Many athletes elect to undergo refractive surgery, such as LASIK or PRK, so that they don’t have to think about putting on their glasses or contact lenses each day. Depending on the sport, this can be an effective vision correction solution. However, these procedures are not without risk and even the slightest complication can have a serious impact on an athlete that relies heavily on visual cues. For example, if the sport is played at night under bright lights, refractive surgery could potentially impact performance if the athlete experiences halo or glare post operatively. Athletes who engage in contact sports also may want to steer clear of surgical vision correction such as LASIK since impact can result in flap injuries—even many years after the procedure was performed.1,2
• Contact Lenses. Contact lenses can offer safe, predictable vision correction for athletes without the worry of glasses slipping and falling off and without the potential unwanted effects that can sometimes follow refractive surgery. The key to contact lens fitting in an athlete is lens stability, which can be challenging in patients who have astigmatism. Soft contact lenses, called toric lenses, can have a tendency to rotate on the eye causing vision to blur. While this may be manageable in a general population, it is not ideal when engaging in a visually demanding sport. In such cases, a gas permeable (GP) lens should be considered since GP lenses provide higher optical quality and are not impacted by lens rotation.
Scleral Lenses for Sports
There are two main types of GP lenses – corneal GPs and scleral lenses, named for the surface of the eye that they bear their weight on. For years, corneal GPs have been a good contact lens option for crisp vision, but they also have limitations. Some corneal GP designs may pop out or trap debris behind the lens surface.
Scleral lenses have gained increasing utility among doctors and patients due to their high level of comfort and visual stability. A scleral lens is a type of GP lens that features a large diameter, and rests on the white part of the eye known as the sclera. Unlike traditional, small diameter GP lenses that rest on the cornea, the scleral lens vaults over the cornea and is much more comfortable than its smaller diameter counterpart. Also, because these lenses feature a larger diameter, they are less likely to dislodge or trap debris behind the lens. Scleral lenses also can be a benefit in the extreme environments that athletes sometime face, covering the surface of the eye and protecting it from environmental exposure.
If you’re a sports enthusiast who doesn’t want the hassles of vision correction to stand in the way of your game, visit your eye doctor to determine the most appropriate management strategy for you.
 Beran RF, Stewart C, Doty J. Refractive surgery and the athlete. J Ophthalmic Nurs Technol. 1995 Jan-Feb;14(1):11-6.
 Tetz M, Werner L, Müller M, Dietze U. Late traumatic LASIK flap loss during contact sport. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2007 Jul;33(7):1332-5.