• Combating Eye Injuries from Air Guns

    Written by: Kierstan Boyd
    Reviewed by: Douglas R Fredrick MD
    Aug. 30, 2016

    Airsoft gun. For many people, this may sound like a harmless, Styrofoam toy weapon made by the Nerf company. Far from a toy, however, an airsoft gun, or air gun, is a replica of a real firearm that shoots small, lightweight plastic bullets or BBs. Pre-dating paintball, air guns were designed for younger and older people alike to practice target shooting and play war games in the woods. Air guns are growing in popularity, and so are the eye injuries they cause.

    Air gun injury statistics have shot up

    An eye-opening study found that since 2010, the number of people admitted to the hospital for eye injuries from air guns has increased by a staggering 600 percent or more. 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 the study, nearly three 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 some of the types of eye trauma ophthalmologists see frequently from air gun use:

    Doctors and surgeons have their sights set on air gun safety

    Photograph of a child's eye in the crosshairs of a gunThere are no laws in the U.S. that regulate air guns. 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.

    Here’s what you need to know about protecting your eyes from airgun injury:

    • 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 shot, either 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.