Eye injuries from air guns increasing among children

The warning “You’ll shoot your eye out” is repeated over and over to Ralphie about his wish for a BB gun in Jean Shepard’s famous A Christmas Story. Ralphie only cracks his eyeglasses in this nostalgic evergreen tale, but the outcome can be worse in real life.

While the overall rate of eye injury has decreased slightly from 1990 to 2012, the rate of eye injury associated with non-powder guns like BB, pellet and paint guns has increased about 170 percent, and non-powder gun-related eye injuries accounted for almost 50 percent of hospitalizations, according to an article in this month’s Pediatrics.

Overall there are about 30 traumatic eye injuries per year per 100,000 children in the US. During the study period of over 20 years, an estimated 441,800 children were treated in US emergency departments for sports- and recreation-related eye injuries.

Only about 5 percent of eye trauma causes permanent vision loss or other serious vision problems, but these amount to about 2,000 or so incidents in the US yearly. Three-quarters of the injured children were male and most were between 10 and 14-years-old. An article in the Israel Medical Association Journal this month also showed increase of these projectile eye injuries in young males in that country.

What can be done to prevent blindness in an eye? No one should ever be around these weapons without eye protection and this includes spectators. If you give a child a non-powder weapon, give several sets of eye protection with it. Ricochets are another forgotten problem so use adhesive backed targets if possible. People forget that paint ball pellets go 100 to 300 feet per second, so even spectators at paintball wars should wear eye gear.

Other recreational activities also cause traumatic eye injuries especially basketball, baseball, and softball. The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommends eye protection for all ball sports, and encourages us to advocate for the mandated use of protective eye equipment in more sport and recreational events.

So be careful with your children’s eyes and they won’t “shoot their eye out”!