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  • Eye Injuries From Paintball Guns, Air Guns and Other Projectile Toys

    Edited By David Turbert
    Published Nov. 07, 2021
    Last Reviewed on Nov. 14, 2023

    Paintball Guns and Ballistic Goggles: A Tactical Combination

    Air guns are a notorious threat 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% since 1990 — even as injuries to other body parts become less common. This is becoming even more problematic as peaceful protestors are targeted with paintball guns and other projectiles. 

    Now, experts are calling for mandatory eye protection.

    Air Guns Can Rupture Your Eyeball and Cause Blinding Injuries

    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:

    Protective Goggles Can Combat Eye Injuries During Paintball and Other Sports

    Photograph of a child's eye in the crosshairs of a gun

    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.


    Know How To Choose Proper Protective Eyewear

    • 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.

    Photograph of a man wearing eye protection while shooting a gun


    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.

    Toy Guns, Crossbows and Nerf Darts Can Shoot Your Eyes Out

    Nerf darts are soft, but that doesn't mean they're safe. Eye injuries from toy darts caused weeks of pain and blurred vision in three patients at the heart of a medical report.

    The study supports what the American Academy of Ophthalmology has said many times: Projectile toys are not safe. Off-brand replacement darts can be even harder than the Nerf brand, causing even more damage.

    Toy dart gun and foam darts on white background

    What's So Dangerous About Nerf Guns?

    Dart guns can cause serious eye injuries. Eye scrapes, bleeding, cataracts, increased eye pressure and permanent vision loss are all possible.

    The Academy stands by its guidance about projectile toys:

    • They are unsafe and you should think about buying something else.
    • If you do buy them for your children, supervise them while they play.
    • Always follow manufacturer warnings and age guidelines.

    According to the United States' Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2019 report, emergency rooms in the U.S. treated more than a quarter million toy-related injuries in 2018. Make sure you choose safe toys for your kids' health and your own peace of mind.

    Children Can Lose an Eye to Crossbows, Darts, Air Guns and Other Projectile Toys

    The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that consumers avoid purchasing projectile-firing toys due to safety concerns. If your children are playing with these types of toys, everyone, even adults, should wear eye protection to block flying objects from entering their eyes.

    Some toy crossbows can shoot arrows nearly 150 feet. Even if arrows are foam and plastic, the impact at close range can cause serious eye damage. Typical injuries from plastic projectiles include corneal abrasions that can scar over when healed, permanently affecting vision.

    Steel lawn darts became a staple of outdoor fun but were banned in the late 1980s after a significant number of children sustained injuries and some died. Other types of darts remain on the market and can impact the eye, causing injuries such as bleeding in the eye (known as hyphema), which itself raises the risk of developing glaucoma later on.

    Remind your family that projectile toys can cause serious eye injuries, even blindness. Share the Academy’s advice for selecting safe gifts this holiday season, and always wear protective goggles or a shield. If you experience an eye injury, call your ophthalmologist and seek medical help right away.