Sports, Athletics, and Keratoconus

Young adult participation in sports and athletic activities typically increases in spring. While 30-40 million children participate annually in organized sports, even more engage in athletic activities with friends after school. Receiving a keratoconus diagnosis can present an obstacle, as it can leave you fearful of engaging in a favorite athletic activity (or allowing your keratoconus-afflicted offspring to remain active in school sports). However, playing baseball, soccer, and swimming are all activities performed by professional athletes with keratoconus.

The staff of the Precision Keratoconus Center recognize that the parents of keratconus-afflicted children are especially concerned with sports activities further damaging the eyes of their offspring. Described below are ways that you can enable your child (or you) to safely participate in athletic activities.

Contact Lens Choices – Impact on Sports and Athletic Activities

Gas Permeable Lenses (GPLs) are more commonly-worn on a daily basis by people living with keratoconus due to their ability to correct both myopia (nearsightedness) and astigmatism. However, the National Keratoconus Foundation (NKF) suggests that scleral contact lenses may be a better option for people participating in team sports and/or vigorous athletic activities.

The main reason is that scleral contact lenses are less likely to shift from place during vigorous athletic activity due to their larger size and coverage area. This decreased capacity of scleral lenses to shift was likewise noted in an article in Clinical Ophthalmology in 2015.

Whether soft contact lenses, GPLs, or scleral lenses are worn, the use of protective goggles may further avoid lens displacement in people playing team sports. Your child’s use of such goggles (or your use) depends upon both the eye injury risk linked to that activity, and the overall impact of these goggles on eyesight.

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Dry Eyes and Keratoconus

Some people with keratoconus chronically experience dry eyes, and this can make wearing contact lenses uncomfortable. Meanwhile, bright sunshine and windy conditions can increase the likelihood of experiencing dry eyes. For people with mild keratoconus and persistent dry eyes, wearing glasses may be more comfortable than contact lenses.

The American Optometric Association lists the following four methods that dry eyes as a specific eye disorder are diagnosed:

  • Patient medical history;
  • External exam of the eye (including blink dynamics);
  • Evaluation of the eyelids and cornea;
  • Measurement of the quantity and quality of tears to identify abnormalities

Utilizing artificial tears on a daily basis relieves the symptoms of dry eyes in many people. Wearing night-time moisture goggles may also relieve dry eye symptoms. According to the NKF, an increased intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve tear production in some people.

Keratoconus-afflicted youth with persistent dry eyes may find participating in outdoor team sports or athletic activities more difficult than participating in indoor sports activities.

Swimming and Keratoconus

Swimming laps in a lane of a pool may be easier than jogging in people with extremely poor vision – and it provides an excellent way to obtain aerobic exercise. However, the chlorine in a swimming pool can exacerbate dry eyes in people who have them.

As noted by the Discovery Eye Foundation, wearing contact lenses (whether soft lenses, GPLs, or scleral contact lenses) in a pool increases the risk of a cornea infection. Some competitive swimmers do use specifically-designed goggles over their contact lenses in a pool.

Health Benefits of Exercise

Even if your child (or you) are not able to play team sports due to poor vision, staying physically active is necessary for your overall health. Living with keratoconus does not have to mean that your child (or you) has to avoid team sports or athletic activities.

At the Precision Keratoconus Center, we want to assist you to maintain your active lifestyle and participate in the athletic activities you enjoy.

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