There's More To Sports Eyewear Than Meets The Eye!

By: rachel roberts

The difference between winning and losing in sport is often marginal and we are all searching for that edge, whether you are off piste or on the track, optimal visual performance is crucial.
As a sports person or athlete wishing to excel in your chosen field you require peak performance from your entire body including your eyes. Using appropriate eyewear with the correct tint can help maximise your visual performance by eliminating harmful ultra-violet (UV) light, reducing glare and increasing contrast. All these factors work together to reduce distractions and enhance performance. Correct sports eyewear, however, is not solely the concern of the elite sports person. Sports people at all levels are wise to take some time in considering the type of sports eyewear they choose. With sports participation becoming more and more popular the demand for expertise in sports vision is increasing.

Eye Safety
Both elite and recreational sports enthusiasts need to ensure that their sports sunglasses offer one hundred percent protection from harmful UVA and UVB light as well as being impact resistant in case of mishaps! These are features that many ‘fashion’ sunglasses lack. For this reason fashion sunglasses should never be worn during sport. They are unlikely to withstand impact and may shatter causing eye or facial injury. The ideal material for sports eyewear is polycarbonate which is a thermoplastic polymer. This material is lightweight and has excellent impact resistance.

Always check the label on any sports sunglasses to ensure that the lenses offer maximum UV protection. Exposing the eye to UV light can contribute to the develoment of cataracts, eye tumours and macular degeneration. The eye can even get ‘sunburn’ - a condition known as ‘keratitis’. This is especially a concern in sports during which the eye is exposed to excessive reflected light such as skiing, snowboarding and water sports. UV bounces off snow and water even on cloudy days therefore it is important to always wear tinted goggles or sports sunglasses during these sports. Polarised lenses are the best choice for these sports as they absorb about ninety eight percent of reflected glare. Swimming goggles are now available with tinted or mirrored lenses to reduce glare in outdoor swimming and other water sports.

Sports sunglasses are also designed with features to make sure they stay on your face! This may sound like an obvious point but it is an important safety consideration. Rubber non-slip temple and nose grips are common features of sports sunglasses. Most are available with inexpensive rubber head straps to further increase security.

A safety feature of skiing goggles is anti-fogging properties. Not only is fogging a huge frustration for skiers and snowboarders, it can lead to potential accidents and injury. Double lenses, anti-fog coating and controllable vents are features to look for in goggles.

You wouldn’t wear your regular footwear for sport so why wear your regular sunglasses!

Maximise Performance
The use of different coloured lens tints to maximise visual performance during sport is becoming increasingly popular. Lens tints work by filtering out certain colours allowing you to see the most important things! Depending on your sport certain lens tints are more appropriate than others.

Golfers may find that grey or grey-green lenses make it easier to outline the course and give definition to course objects such as the flag and ball. This colour lens is great for all weather use as overall colour perception is unchanged. Photochromic lenses are also great for golf. These are lenses which darken in bright light and are useful when moving from light to shade. Photochromic lenses are also useful for any outdoor sport when the weather is partly cloudy and partly sunny.

Amber tints effectively block blue light and enhance contrast and depth in low light conditions such as early morning light, twilight or rainy days. Amber as well as rose tints are great for winter sports as they enhance the grey shadows on the ski slopes. This allows you to ‘read’ the slope better and anticipate ridges and bumps in the snow. In very bright and sunny ski conditions, however, polarised lenses are the perfect choice to reduce the reflected glare. A popular compromise is to have amber or rose tinted goggles for dull days and a second pair of polarised sports sunglasses for use on those perfect skiing days!

Tennis players may find that yellow tints enhance the contrast between the court and the yellow ball. The enhanced visual acuity provided by yellow tints also makes them an ideal lens for driving. Another high contrast lens tint is orange. This tint is perfect for general wear and variable light conditions.

Many manufacturers have developed interchangable lens systems which allows you to put different lenses into the same frames. Depending on the weather conditions and the sport you are participating in, the ideal lens can be inserted quickly and easily into your chosen frame. This is a cost effective way of increasing your eyewear options.

The choice of combinations of lenses, designs and styles is seemingly endless. It is, however, worth investing some time and thought into your specific needs. Ideally, if you are serious about your sport, you should seek some advice from a professional. Some Optometrists are now specialising in sports vision and would be best placed to offer specific advice. At the very least always insist on one hundred percent UV protection and consider the demands of your sport.

We all wear sport specific footwear, now’s the time to start thinking about sport specific eyewear!

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Rachel Roberts is Co-Director of Sport Spex ( UK based online retailers of sports sunglasses, skiing goggles and swimming goggles. Her husband, Adam is a qualified Sports Optometrist and offers free online advice.

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