By Kathleen Doheny
FRIDAY, Oct. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Paintball, airsoft and BB guns are often considered harmless, but a new study confirms that the guns can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening injuries in children.
"The popular conception is that they are toys," said Dr. Nina Mizuki Fitzgerald, the lead researcher and a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center/Children's Health in Dallas. Not so, she said, adding that "injuries can be extremely severe and [children] can have long-term deficits."
In the study, Fitzgerald and her team evaluated medical records of children seen at Children's Medical Center Dallas after non-powder gun accidents between 2010 and 2015. In all, 288 children, average age 11, were treated for the gun injuries, more than three-quarters of which involved a BB gun.
About one in four children had to undergo surgery for the injury. Nearly 45 percent had a foreign body injury (such as the BB). About 15 percent were hospitalized. In addition, one in 10 had a functional deficit that interfered with daily tasks, and the overwhelming majority of those were eye-related. Seven children had an eye injury so severe surgeons had to remove the eye, the researchers reported.
"The biggest take-away for parents is that kids should always be supervised when using non-powder guns," Fitzgerald said. And children should always wear eye protection, she stressed.
While some experts propose a ban on the guns, Fitzgerald prefers more education, such as the need to wear goggles, and awareness that the injuries can be major.
Parents should know that even an accident that looks minor may need medical attention. "There may be a tiny puncture mark, and it doesn't look bad at all. But they can have severe internal injuries," she explained.
Fitzgerald is scheduled to present the findings Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Washington, D.C.
The study results are not surprising because they build on previous research that found the same, said Dr. Roberto Warman, director of pediatric ophthalmology at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. He has seen many such eye injuries in his years of practice, and recalls having to remove eyes that could not be saved. One child was only 3 years old, he added.
Some accidents occur, he said, after children take off their goggles at the end of play, and then a child shoots another round. Collecting the paintball guns and then the goggles could help reduce that possibility, he suggested.
Warman would like to see a ban on non-powder guns, but he said that is probably not realistic, citing pressure from the manufacturers and those who sell the devices.
He said parents need to be informed that their children must wear goggles during the gun play and need to be supervised at all times.
Studies presented at medical meetings are viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.