Watch the Birdie: Badminton Players at Risk for Eye Injuries

By Carolyn Crist | April 18, 2019

Badminton players may be at high risk for serious eye injuries, many of which can bring on permanent vision problems or blindness, according to a study of wounds treated at a Beijing hospital.

Whether inflicted by an errant shuttlecock or someone else’s racket, the majority of eye injuries in the study occurred among doubles players and were mostly caused by the injured person’s partner, the authors report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“More and more lay players in the badminton practice have been found injured . . . in recent years,” said senior study author Dr. Yi Liu of Capital Medical University in Beijing.

Badminton has become a popular outdoor exercise in China because it’s easy to start anywhere and is inexpensive, yet the number of associated eye injuries has increased, he said. In fact, badminton is a leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in Southeast Asia and accounts for two-thirds of sports-related eye injuries in Malaysia, Liu noted.

“Badminton is great for both fun and exercise,” he told Reuters Health by email. “Compared to other popular sports such as football and basketball, we saw it as less aggressive and combative and therefore a safe outside exercise.”

Liu and colleagues analyzed the medical records for 85 patients treated between 2011 and 2017 at Beijing Tongren Hospital for badminton-related eye injuries.

The patients ranged in age from 15 to 65. Injured players had an average of eight years of experience playing badminton, and half said they were unaware of the high risk of the game.

In 60 of the 85 cases, the player was hit by the shuttlecock, or birdie. In the other cases, the player was hit by the racquet. About 85 percent of the injuries occurred in doubles matches, and 60 percent were caused by the player’s partner.

All but one player were in the forecourt during injury, and they were most often injured by turning around and being hit by their partner. Most players had not received badminton lessons and none used protective eyewear.

Eighty injuries were non-penetrating, but five were penetrating, including three resulting from shattered eyeglasses. About 68 percent of the injuries produced hyphema, a collection of blood inside the front part of the eye that is typically painful and can cause permanent vision problems if not treated properly. In addition, 36 cases led to secondary glaucoma, 23 had lens displacement and two extreme cases had retinal detachment. Surgery was required in nearly a third of cases, including the five penetrating injuries that led to irreversible vision impairment, with the worst resulting in blindness.

“Many participants are unaware of the ocular dangers that many sports pose, such as badminton, and having data . . . is always more subjective and powerful,” said Dr. Micah Luong of Cloudbreak Eye Care in Alberta, Canada, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“What sticks out to me the most is that one had permanent legal blindness and none of the participants were wearing safety glasses,” he told Reuters Health by email. “Something as simple as wearing safety glasses could have prevented this.”

“People playing badminton should use wraparound, protective plastic safety glasses over their regular spectacles, similar to what people working with sheet metal use, or goggles,” said Dr. Simon Skalicky of the Eye Surgery Associates in Melbourne, Australia, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

In Australia, experts are encouraging those with previous badminton injuries to get checked for glaucoma that can develop later, sometimes even a decade later, Skalicky said.

“The evidence is undeniable that permanent eye damage can occur, and if it does occur, it can be devastating for that individual’s entire life,” he said by email.

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