BB guns dangerous for kids as they increase risk of eye injuries

Children's Health

Often marketed as toys, non-powder firearms like BB guns, pellet guns, airsoft, and paintball guns are dangerous for children and teenagers due to a high risk of eye injury.

A team of researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that between 1990 and 2016, there had been a decrease of overall non-powder firearms injuries, but a marked increase in eye injuries, which is quite alarming.

Published in Pediatrics, the study covered more than 360,000 children who were treated in United States Emergency Room Departments for injuries related to firearms. They found that in 1990, there were 16.456 injuries related to BB guns, and it plummeted to just 8,585 in 2016. About 81 percent of the injuries are linked to BB gun-use. Though the rate decreased by as much as 48 percent, by 2016, a child is being treated each hour for non-powder gun-related injuries in the United States.

Image Credit: Phanu Suwannarat / Shutterstock

Eye injury rates increased

Further, eye injuries account for 15 percent of all non-powder gun-related injuries. The number of eye injury cases soared by a staggering 50 percent throughout the study. Often, the injuries are severe, and about 22 percent warranted admission in the hospital.
Non-powder guns are capable of inflicting eye trauma, ranging from hyphema and corneal abrasion to more serious injuries like retinal detachment, global rupture, and lens dislocation. The most common eye injuries seen in patients brought to the emergency rooms were corneal abrasion, which accounted for 35 percent of all eye injuries, hyphema, accounting for 13 percent, and globe rupture and foreign body, accounting for 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Aside from BB guns, which accounts for most eye injuries, other devices can also cause injuries, particularly those affecting the eyes. These include pellet guns, accounting for 16 percent of all injuries, paintball guns, accounting for 13 percent, and airsoft guns, accounting for less than 1 percent. The non-powder guns with the highest rate of hospital admissions due to the severity of the injuries are paintball guns (12 percent), pellet guns (8 percent), and airsoft guns (7 percent).

What can be done

The researchers suggest that these devices and non-powder firearms pose serious health effects to children and teenagers.

“Non-powder firearms can cause permanent, severe disability and even death. They are more powerful than many people think, and some can achieve a muzzle velocity similar to a handgun,” Dr. Gary Smith, study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The researchers suggest that there should be stricter policies on the use of these firearms in children. Moreover, parents and children should have proper awareness and education on protecting themselves, safe use of these devices, proper supervision, and the use of protective eyewear.

In the early 2000s, BB gun manufacturers established internal restrictions on marketing and sales to minors. On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology made a joint policy statement to promote eye protection for high-risk recreational activities, including the use of non-powder firearms.

However, state policies vary with some restricting use under those who are 18 years old and below, and others for younger children, below 12 years old of age.

Parents and children should know the importance of using protective eye shields or eye goggles to prevent serious eye injuries that can cause partial or complete vision loss if they’re not treated promptly.

The researchers also noted that children should only shoot BB guns and pellet guns towards paper or gel targets. These backstops can absorb the force of the incoming projectile, preventing ricocheting.

Doctors and health experts also recommend a rule in using these non-powder firearms, wherein children aren’t allowed to play without proper eyewear.

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