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Children Targets for Paintball Injuries

'War Games' May Put Children's Eyesight at Risk

WebMD Health News

Jan. 6, 2004 -- Paintball-related eye injuries may be putting children's eyesight at risk. A new study shows that eye injuries caused by the popular combat-simulating game have more than doubled from 1998 to 2000, despite improvements in eye protection devices.

The study shows more than 1,200 paintball eye injuries were treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. in 2000, up from only 545 reported injuries in 1998. Researchers say children account for more than 40% of those injuries.

Many of those who sustained paintball eye injuries suffered from permanent vision impairment, with 43% having vision of only 20/200 or worse upon follow up.

The results appear in the January issue of Pediatrics.

The Perils of Paintball

Researcher shows paintball is an increasingly popular form of war game, and an estimated 8 million people in the U.S. suited up in 1999 at more than 2,500 sites.

Paintballs are small gelatin capsules filled with nontoxic, water-soluble paint. But researchers say it's the small size (about 14 millimeters in diameter) and force with which the paintballs are fired that makes them dangerous. The balls are fired at about 300 feet per second, and they are small enough to strike or penetrate the eyeball directly and cause serious damage.

Severe paintball eye injuries were first documented in 1985 and goggles were soon recommended as protection. In recent years, more sophisticated facemasks with integrated protective lenses have become the new standard at organized paintball facilities.

But researchers say paintball eye injuries at noncommercial paintball centers are becoming increasingly common, especially among children.

"What I think is happening is that adults who (play paintball) go out with their businesses to centers where they require you to wear eye protection," says researcher David Listman, MD, of the department of pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in Bronx, N.Y., in a news release. "Children, though, play in the backyard, in the woods and ... they're not often going to take appropriate protective measures."

Listman says parents or other caregivers should supervise children playing with paintballs and require them to wear modern eye protection to reduce the risk of potentially blinding injuries.

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