Share on Pinterest
Experts say pellet and other types of toy guns are more powerful than they used to be, so protective eye gear is a must when using them. Getty Images
  • Researchers say the number of eye injuries associated with BB, pellet, Airsoft, paintball, and other guns is increasing.
  • They say the increase is due to the fact that guns sold today are more powerful than the toys of yesteryear.
  • Experts recommend that military-style eye protection gear be worn whenever children or adults are using these weapons.

If you’re a parent, it’s that time of year again. You’re starting to put together your holiday toy list.

But if your list includes “toy” or “starter” guns, make sure you get the right kind of protective eye gear.

That’s because the number of children and adolescents getting serious eye injuries from BB, pellet, paintball, and Airsoft guns is on the rise.

That’s according to a new study, called Nonpowder Firearm Injuries to Children Treated in Emergency Departments, published today in the December edition of the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers say they discovered that the overall rate of these firearm injuries has decreased by 55 percent since 1990, but the rate of eye injuries has increased by 30 percent.

“The good news is that these injuries overall are going down. But, unfortunately, they still remain an important source of preventable injuries in children,” said Dr. Gary A. Smith, DrPH, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The researchers examined 26 years of data from the National Electronic Surveillance System, a representative database maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

They found that on average, more than 13,000 children a year under the age of 18, mostly young boys, were treated in an emergency department for injuries from nonpowder firearms.

BB guns accounted for 81 percent of the injuries. And 22 percent of the eye injuries were serious enough that they required the child be admitted to the hospital.

“They can wind up with a projectile in their eye, a globe ruptured. That means the eyeball itself was pierced. They can end up with a hyphema. That’s when there’s blood in the front part of the eyeball. These are all really serious injuries,” Smith told Healthline.

Experts say there are several reasons for the upward trend in eye injuries.

“Other studies have shown that when it comes to eye injuries, 98 percent aren’t wearing eye protection,” Smith explained.

He says the researchers in today’s study didn’t have access to sales data to see if more of the firearms are being sold. But he says there’s anecdotal evidence the guns may have a lot more power.

“BB guns were very different when I was a kid,” Smith said. “The ones we have today are much more powerful. The muzzle velocity on some is similar to a handgun. That’s a high-powered projectile.”

“My clinical background is as a pediatric emergency medicine physician. I worked for decades in emergency departments in children’s hospitals across this country,” Smith added.

“I’ve seen BBs lodged in the sac that surrounds the heart or pericardium,” he said. “I’ve seen pellets that pierced the skull and landed next to the brain. I’ve seen a child shot in the buttocks by a pellet gun. The pellets went from his buttocks to his abdomen, then through his intestines. It caused so much damage, he had to have a colostomy.”

The researchers say there are few laws regulating the nonpowder guns. So, it’s up to parents to make sure their kids are safe.

“If the guns are being used for target practice or small animal hunting, you should regard them the same as a 22-gauge firearm because they can do similar damage,” Smith said. “They really need to be treated as if they are lethal when they have that kind of power.”

He says parents need to carefully consider whether their child is old enough and mature enough to use a firearm. Children need to be supervised, monitored, and trained.

“This is important,” said Anthony Green, chief advocacy and network officer of the nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide. “We encourage parents to think of nonpowder firearms in the same way as they do when keeping traditional firearms with bullets safe around their kids.”

“We also suggest parents talk to grandparents and the parents of kids with whom their kids play in the hopes that everyone follows safe gun practices,” Green told Healthline. “We realize this isn’t the easiest conversation to have, but it’s important.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has put together some tips to help you find the right protective eye gear:

  • Goggles and sunglasses designed for skiing, sun, dust, and wind protection are NOT safe for eye protection when it comes to gun use. If the googles and glasses are hit either directly or indirectly, they can shatter, damaging the eyes as much or more than a BB or pellet gun can.
  • Civilian safety eyewear has “Z” rated markings. It’s used for yard work, home improvement projects, factory work, or roadside construction crews. It’s NOT recommended for use with air guns and other similar weapons.
  • Ballistic eyewear is designed for use with air guns and other weapons. Ballistic safety eyewear is strong enough for military use. It must be identified as meeting Military Ballistic Standards. Among other important factors, the eyewear must completely cover the eyes and slightly wrap around the head.