Nerf Guns Are Poking Kids In the Eye, and Doctors Are Concerned

Nerf guns: All fun and games until someone literally loses an eye.

Nerf Guns can cause serious eye injuries in kids — including traumatic hyphema, which can cause permanent blindness due to blood pooling between the surface of the cornea and iris, a new case report suggests. Physicians wrote the report after they noticed that several children have recently landed in the emergency room with eye injuries caused by Nerf Guns.

“The fact that the toy guns are available to children, and yet can cause such significant bleeding in the eye, was surprising,” study co-author and ophthalmologist Mukhtar Bizrah told Fatherly. “It was worth doing because it is a public health issue.”

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Past research has sounded the alarm about other toy guns, besides Nerf. One study of 32 children found that airsoft guns, which shoot plastic pellets, can cause long-term vision damage and, occasionally, require surgery. But the current case study focuses on Nerf injuries, by following three patients (two adults and one child) whose injuries landed them in the emergency room within a three-month period. All three patients were diagnosed with traumatic hyphema and significant eye trauma. The child had more complications than the two adults — in addition to hyphema, he also experienced swelling of the cornea and neuroretina, a battery of secondary eye injuries that have been linked with worse visual outcomes in children.

boy with eyepatch

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Bizrah suspects that the child’s injuries were more severe because he was shot with the Nerf Gun at close range. “Another possibility is that a child’s eye is maybe more susceptible to injury than an adult,” he says. “But we do not have proof for this.”

After treatment, all three patients recovered without any long-term damage. Bizrah and colleagues suggest that the ordeal could have been avoided, however, by making use of protective eyewear and avoiding shots to the face, especially at close range.  The authors also mention that generic, non-Nerf darts are made with harder plastic than authentic Nerf darts, and could cause even more severe injuries, so parents may want to stick with the real deal. In any case, Bizrah hopes his study raises the possible risks without eradicating the use of Nerf Guns entirely. This study is not a farewell to arms, he says.

“The purpose is not to scare parents and guardians from children playing with projectile toys altogether.”

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