Athletes are bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive than prior generations. When I was a kid I don’t think anyone put safety and sports in the same sentence, but times have changed and for the better. Issues of safety have come to the fore. April is National Youth Sports Safety Month. What can you do to protect your future all-star from serious injury?

Safety and youth sports, what do you know? T or F?

1. Football players are at highest risk for eye injuries.

2. Bicycle helmets should be replaced after any crash involving a blow to the head.

3. Mouth guards protect teeth and prevent concussions.

Athletes risk injury in every sport but there are ways to decrease risk for injury. Rules that promote safety are critical and they must be enforced by coaches and officials. When the NFL moved kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line concussions on kickoffs were reduced 43 percent.

Helmets, eye wear and mouth guards are three pieces of equipment that decrease risk of serious injury. Some sports require this equipment but many do not. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used. Playing safely may mean going beyond the rules and requirements.

The first commercially available bicycle helmet was made in 1975 of Styrofoam. Then came Lance Armstrong and The Tour, and cycling (for those who are serious) and bicycling (for the rest of us) got a lot more interesting and popular. Helmets looked tough and cool. Tony Hawke wears one and nobody would question his toughness. If you’re on a bike, wear a helmet. About 130,000 kids under age 15 are treated for bicycle-related brain injuries every year. Replace a helmet if there are any signs of damage. The Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City has information about bicycle helmets on the web  or at 913-754-8883.

Dental and oral injuries are painful and expensive and may be prevented by using a simple dental guard. Football players, NBA basketball players including LeBron James and other professional athletes wear them. Young players who emulate such stars may be more inclined to use them. It is my opinion that they should be worn in all sports that involve balls. About 3 million kids wear braces. This is an expensive investment in teeth. Purchasing a $10 mouth guard to protect them seems a smart move. Broken teeth and cut lips are painful, to mouths and wallets. A note of caution. There are no scientific studies which show that mouth guards protect from concussion, an oft-repeated claim by some manufacturers. It won’t protect your kid’s brain but it will protect their lips, teeth, and gums.

Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in kids. According to the National Eye Institute, every 13 minutes somewhere in the United States a physician in an emergency room is treating a kid with a sports-related eye injury. Baseball is a leading cause of eye injuries in those 14 and under. Basketball is a leading cause between 15 and 24 years of age. Batted balls are 3.5 times more likely to cause an eye injury than pitched balls. Translation, you are in greater danger playing the field than batting.

For more information and resources for parents the NEI recommends,  . Protective eyewear could prevent ninety per cent of sports-related eye injuries. Polycarbonate lenses are recommended because they will not shatter and can withstand a tremendous blunt force. Ophthalmologists and eye care specialists can make recommendations on which is right for your child.

I know. I know. When you were young you were the toughest on the block and kids today are soft and weak and they should just gut it out and play ball—old school style. Well, I’m all for old school effort and sportsmanship. But, when it comes to safety, this biggest, fastest, most aggressive generation in history could use some new school, high tech protection.

Answers: 1. F; 2. T; 3. F.

Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at .