Kids Eye Injuries From BB, Paintball Guns Spike

BB and paintball guns might seem harmless to children, but new research has shown that the number of eye injuries in paintball guns have increased by nearly 170 percent over the past 20 years.

Dr. Gary Smith, study author, said that these injuries can occur in a matter of seconds and can have long-lasting effects. His team observed that the increase in air gun-related eye injuries was despite a slight drop in overall child injury rates. Smith stated that the study examined sports- and recreational-related eye injury over a 23-year span and found a slight decline in overall eye injuries. Smith directs the Center for Injury Research and Policy, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Smith observed that this overall decline “coincided” with a decrease of participation in many youth activities during this time. Basketball and softball were the most common sports to be linked with eye injuries. They account for around 15% of all eye injuries. The study showed that even though sports-related eye injuries decreased, serious ocular injuries related to BB, paintball, and pellet guns increased. These injuries were responsible for just 11 percent of all pediatric eye injuries, but almost half of those that required hospitalization.

Nearly 80 percent of the most serious injuries were caused by children using a BB gun, or pellet gun.

Smith described the trends as “revealing”. He noted that eye injuries from sports and recreation can be prevented. “Increased prevention efforts will be needed.” Smith stated that the findings point to the need for safety eyewear. He acknowledged that this might require a cultural shift within the sport to ensure children use proper eye protection. Smith and his team analyzed data from the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System to determine trends in eye injuries between 1990-2012. Nearly 442,000 children were included in the data. The highest eye injury risk was found in children between 10 and 17. Boys accounted for three quarters of all accidents.

These findings were published online in Pediatrics on Jan. 8. Smith pointed out that Smith’s study didn’t examine changes in laws and ordinances regarding gun access or use by children. Smith stated that he was unable to pinpoint the causes of the observed rise in non-powder gun-related eyes injuries. Smith advocated for “increased education of child, parent, and coach.”

He noted, for example, that children should not shoot BB or pellet guns at paper targets. Instead, they should aim their guns at gel targets made of paper or gel. These targets are equipped with “backstops”, which absorb the projectile and prevent it from ricocheting. Smith advocated for consistent rules that required the use of eye protection equipment. Dr. Mohamad Jafar, the national chief of ophthalmology, is based in Washington, D.C. at Children’s National Health System. He was not surprised by the results.

He suggested that the number of children with serious eye injuries may be underestimated because more people are seen in “urgent care” centers and pediatric practices. Jaafar suggested a simple rule to reduce risk: “No play, no eyewear.” He said, “It’s as easy as wearing a seatbelt.” We didn’t do this in the past. Now we do. The car won’t roll if you don’t wear a seatbelt. If you don’t have eye protection, the car won’t roll. The statistics should be shown to parents so they can understand how the injury could lead to permanent blindness.

Updated 01/24/22