(Reuters Health) - A growing number of children are getting treated in U.S. emergency rooms for eye injuries from paintball or BB and pellet guns, a new study suggests.
While team sports still account for the majority of eye injuries, kids are almost eight times more likely to be hospitalized for eye injuries sustained while using “non-powder” guns than from participating in other types of sports, researchers found.
From 1990 to 2012, eye injury rates for these guns more than doubled even as the overall injury rate for all sports declined slightly, and these gun injuries accounted for almost half of all hospitalizations, researchers report in Pediatrics.
“These injuries can happen in an instant and can have significant lifelong effects,” said senior study author Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“Increased prevention efforts are needed, especially for eye injuries associated with non-powder guns,” Smith said by email.
As with many other sports, kids need eye protection and adult supervision when they play paintball or use BB or pellet guns, Smith advised. Children should also learn to shoot BB and pellet guns at paper or gel targets with a backstop that will trap the BBs or pellets to prevent ricochet.
Smith’s team examined data from a nationally representative group of kids age 17 or younger who were treated at nearly 100 emergency rooms around the country.
An estimated 441,800 kids received emergency treatment for eye injuries during the 23-year study period, for an average of 19,209 children each year.
Overall, this translates into an injury rate of almost 27 kids out of every 100,000 children.
Boys sustained about three-fourths of these injuries, and 43 percent occurred among kids ages 10 to 14.
A scratched cornea was the most common type of injury, followed by an infection known as conjunctivitis, or pink eye, and getting objects stuck in the eye.
While the majority of kids were treated in the emergency room and released, about 5 percent of children had serious injuries that required hospitalization.
Basketball was responsible for the most injuries, at 16 percent, followed by baseball and softball at 15 percent and non-powder guns at 11 percent.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how certain sports might cause specific eye injuries. Researchers also lacked data on eye protection use.
In addition, researchers didn’t have data on participation rates for different sports, making it impossible to calculate eye injury rates based on how often kids participated in specific activities.
Eye injuries have become less common in many sports such as ice hockey, field hockey and lacrosse that have introduced eye protection, noted Annette Hoskin, a researcher at the University of Western Australia in Perth who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Parents should lead by example and always wear eye protection for all activities where they are at high risk of an eye injury,” Hoskin said by email.
While coaches may be able to enforce the use of eye protection for many organized sports, children are much more likely to be using BB guns or playing paintball at home, noted Dr. Sterling Haring, an injury researcher with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
This means parents need to be vigilant, both at home and when kids are playing team sports, Haring, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“No one ever expects to be blinded by a line drive or lose vision from a layup, but these things happen every year,” Haring said. “These injuries can be prevented – an inexpensive pair of protective eyewear can make a lifetime of difference.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2AHdveg Pediatrics, online January 8, 2018.
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