Air gun injuries again on the rise

Tue, 05/13/2008 - 3:18pm
By: Letters to the ...

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote my first and only letter to this paper. I am not a political person and usually have nothing to add to the discussion on these pages.

However, I am an ophthalmologist at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, and unfortunately I see a lot of eye injuries. I am writing again to follow up about the dangers of paintball and AirSoft guns.

Before I wrote my letter two years ago, I had seen a dramatic increase in the number of injuries due to paintball and AirSoft. Since that letter was published, I saw no more such injuries until about four weeks ago.

I had deluded myself into thinking that what I wrote in the paper had actually done some good. Not so.

Recently, the trend has come back with a vengeance, and I have seen five injuries from paintball or AirSoft in the past month. These injuries vary in severity, but as I stated before, any preventable eye injury is unacceptable in my mind.

Each year, there are over 300,000 serious eye injuries, with more than 50,000 from projectiles, including paintball and AirSoft.

For those of you who are unaware, paintball is simulated warfare using a 3-gram pellet filled with liquid paint. The pellets travel at speeds of up to 200 mph and spray paint on you when they hit you.

AirSoft uses smaller plastic pellets weighing less than a gram but travel at speeds up to 275 mph. When these pellets hit skin covered by clothing, they may make a large welt, in the case of the paintball pellet, or a very small one, in the case of the AirSoft pellet.

However, when these pellets hit an unprotected eyeball, the damage can be far more severe, and the complications can last a lifetime. These injuries are made more tragic in that they usually happen to young kids, mainly boys.

I am certain that parents are purchasing this equipment with the understanding that such injuries will not occur.

The equipment for both paintball and AirSoft is sold with warnings that eye protection must be worn at all times. In fact, full helmets are suggested to protect teeth and ears as well.

The problem is that eye protection is almost always purchased by the parents, but it is often worn incorrectly by the participants.

Most of the time with these injuries, the patient tells me that they just took off the protective eyewear for a few seconds and were hit while they were trying to clean their mask. Other times, the patient admits that they weren’t wearing eye protection like they were supposed to.

Parents, please believe me, these devices are NOT safe. Young people do not understand the inherent dangers of this activity and will not wear eye protection 100 percent of the time, no matter what you tell them to do.

My four children don’t always do what I tell them to do either. I suspect all parents have similar experiences in this regard.

I mention all of this again not to put the paintball and AirSoft suppliers out of business. Used completely as indicated, they might be safe. I rarely see injuries from paintball game locations, because they are so vigilant and insistent about eye protection.

Most injuries come from the backyard, frequently while Mom and Dad are inside. I do not want parents to assume that their children are playing safely with these guns. If your children are participating in this activity, please insure that you take the proper steps to protect them. I would rather meet you somewhere other than the Piedmont Fayette Emergency Room.

Brian D. Long, M.D.

Eye Consultants of Atlanta

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