Written By: Kierstan Boyd Reviewed By: Douglas R Fredrick MD AAO.org
Air guns are notoriously hazardous to the eyes. But new findings suggest these guns are harming more eyes than ever before. Eye injuries from paintball, pellet, airsoft and BB guns have risen by 50 percent since 1990 — even as injuries to other body parts become less common.
Now, experts are calling for mandatory eye protection.
Why are air guns dangerous?
Far from a toy, an airsoft gun or air gun is a replica of a real firearm that shoots small, lightweight plastic bullets or BBs. Since 2010, the number of people admitted to the hospital for eye injuries from air guns has increased by a staggering 600 percent. In fact, most children’s eye injuries that led to a hospital admission were caused by air guns.
Unfortunately, eye damage from an air gun injury is often long-lasting. In one study, about 3 out of 10 young patients who suffered air-gun injuries still had poor eyesight after treatment, with visual acuity worse than 20/50.
Here are the most common types of eye injuries from air guns:
- bleeding inside the eye (hyphema)
- scrapes on the surface of the eye (corneal abrasion)
- detached retina
- dislocated lens inside the eye
- rupture of the eyeball
Protective eyewear should be mandatory, experts say
Studies suggest that most air gun eye injuries occur in children who are not wearing eye protection. There are no federal laws in the U.S. that regulate air guns or require safety goggles. Many states allow children under the age of 18 to buy and use these so-called “toy” weapons. Without using these guns responsibly, kids—and adults—are risking their vision.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Medical Association are encouraging people who use air guns to wear the proper type of protective goggles.
This is the only way to prevent possible vision loss from air gun use.
Choose the best protective eyewear for airgun use
- Goggles and sunglasses designed for skiing, sun, dust and wind protection are NOT safe for eye protection with air gun use. If these types of eyewear are hit directly or indirectly, they can shatter, damaging the eyes as much as—or even more than—a bb or pellet can do on its own.
- “Ballistic” eyewear is designed for use with air guns and other weapons. Ballistics means the movement of objects that are shot or forced to move forward through the air. Ballistic safety eyewear is strong enough for military use, and is rated differently by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) than civilian safety eyewear.
- Civilian safety eyewear has “Z”-rated markings, meaning they meet ANSI safety standards for various settings such as yard work or home improvement projects, to industrial use, such as in factories or for road construction crews. “Z” rated safety eyewear is not recommended for use with air guns or other similar weapons.
- Ballistic safety eyewear must be identified as meeting Military Ballistic Standards. Among other important factors, they must cover the eyes completely and wrap slightly around the head.
Before heading for the woods for an air gun skirmish, ask your eye care provider to help you identify the appropriate safety goggles. Your vision may depend on it.