In a recent study by Eliot Nelson, an injury prevention expert from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), he discusses the risks of various “toy” guns. Airsoft guns sounds like they are “soft” and not harmful. These nonpowder guns look like real guns and are sold in sporting goods and other retail stores. They shoot a 6 millimeter plastic pellet hopefully at targets. Their increasing popularity has led to an increase in eye injuries. Dr. Nelson states that no one should use these toys without appropriate eye protection.

Those that do not wear eye protection are at risk of eye injury. Airsoft pellets that strike the eye can cause scratches, painful pooling of blood inside the eye, lens dislocation or blindness. The AAP recommends that kids use paintball-style protective hardware that has a label saying the glasses have met the ASTM F1776 safety standards.

Airsoft guns are sold alongside other nonpowder guns like BB guns that fire metal ball bearing, pellet guns that fire small lead pellets and paintball guns that fire gelatinous balls filled with paint. Air, other gases, springs and electricity help shoot the ammunition out of the gun. Nonpowder guns have an orange tip so they are not mistaken for a real gun. The tip should not be removed.

BB guns and metal pellet guns are not designed to be shot at people. They can kill small animals and are better described as weapons.

Airsoft and paintball guns are designed to be shot at people in games. They can cause welts on the skin but are not supposed to break the skin.

They cause a sting and it is recommended that protective clothing in addition to the eye protection be worn. The AAP does not suggest an age that the airsoft guns are considered safe but hope that parents would consider whether their child understands the risks and will wear eye protection.

Dr. Nelson states the following: “The bottom line is that all of these guns are potentially hurtful. Parents should be very careful not to think of any of these as harmless toys.”

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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