National Football League (NFL) players who wore visors experienced fewer eye injuries than players who did not, according to a new study in Ophthalmology.
Researchers studied the weekly injury reports for all 32 NFL teams for 5 seasons, from 2015 to 2020, including reports from preseason, regular, and playoff games. They identified eye injuries by searching for the keywords “ocular,” “eye,” “facial” and “orbit,” and compiled a list of NFL players who played at least a single regular-season game, studying individual players in footage or in-game photographs to determine their ethnicity and visor use.
The research team found that of the 250 injuries reported, 16 were football eye-related wounds. Most eye injuries (n=12, 75%) occurred in the regular season, fewer (n=4, 25%) in the preseason, and none in the playoffs. The injuries affected offensive and defensive players equally (n=8, 50% each).
Overall, 9729 NFL players who played at least a single regular-season game between the 2015 to 2016 and 2019 to 2020 seasons were included in the study’s analysis. Of these players, 3049 wore a visor (31.6%) and most visor users (n=2951, 72 96.8%) wore clear visors. The percentage of players wearing a visor varied for each team, ranging from 19.4% to 38.6%. The remaining players (n=6680) did not wear a visor.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has categorized football as a sport with moderate risk of eye injury and recommends using visors for protection. Yet, despite this and the NFL’s own commitment to player safety, using a visor is still optional.
Researchers found that the number of players wearing visors varied from year to year, with 23.8% (n=1086) of the 4566 offensive players, 41.0% (n=1,963) of the 4786 defensive players and none of the 377 included kickers or punters choosing to wear a visor. Also, higher BMI was linked with reduced visor use (P =.02).
“Eye injuries are more common in players that do not wear a visor suggesting that visor usage may play an important role in protecting players,” the research says. “As most injuries occurred by eye gouges, a visor provides an effective barrier to prevent these and similar insults to the orbital area that are not prevented by a face mask alone.”
The study was limited because researchers used publicly available resources, relied on team medical personnel reporting, and weren’t able to absolutely determine if visor use was associated with fewer eye injuries due to the relative scarcity of reported eye injuries.
Dhoot A, Koziarz A, Lee Y, Chopra C, Micieli J. Eye injuries and visor usage in the national football league. Ophthalmol. Published online February 1, 2020. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2021.01.027