Make eye health a priority when choosing holiday gifts for your child. Some toys have the potential to cause serious eye injury and permanent vision loss. According to the National Library Science of Medicine, over a 23-year period about 1.5 million children were treated in the emergency department for eye injuries related to consumer products. Before toy shopping, become informed about the risks that air guns and projectile toys pose to eye health. Combat the effects of screen time by choosing toys that encourage outdoor activity.

What You Need to Know About Air Guns

Many parents don’t think twice about letting their child play with a non-powder firearm. These guns are powered by compressed air (or other methods) instead of gun powder. They include BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns and airsoft guns. In the United States there no federal laws that regulate this type of firearm or require safety protection.


In their online article from October 2021 The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) warns that “air guns are a notorious threat to the eyes.” Eye damage from air guns can last a lifetime. The most common types of injury are bleeding inside the eye, corneal abrasion (scrapes on the surface of the eye) detached retina, dislocated lens and rupture of the eyeball. Children with eye injury from air guns have the highest hospital admission rates, which indicates that their injuries are more serious.


Most air gun eye injuries happen to children who aren’t wearing eye protection. If your child does use air guns, make sure he or she and those around them wear appropriate goggles. Not any random goggles or eyewear will do. Goggles and sunglasses designed for sports or yard work are not safe and can shatter, causing serious injury to the eye. Choose ballistic safety eyewear that meets Military Ballistic Standards. The AAO says that it is important this eyewear covers the eyes completely and is designed to wrap around the eye area. To be sure your child is protected, talk to your eye care provider before you buy.


What You Need to Know About Projectile Toys

Projectile-firing toys include toy guns, nerf darts, and crossbows. Even though nerf bullets and nerf darts are soft, they can cause eye injury. The AAO warns that corneal abrasion, bleeding, increased eye pressure, and permanent vision loss are possible. Crossbows that can shoot plastic or foam arrows long distances are particularly hazardous at close range. These can cause eye injuries that permanently affect vision. The AAO recommends against buying projectile toys. See the sidebar for AAO Guidance on Projectile Toys.


AAO Guidance on Projectile Toys

Projectile toys aren’t safe. Make sure you understand the risks to your child’s vision. But if you do decide to allow these toys, do the following:

  • Supervise children while they play with projectile toys.
  • Adhere to manufacturer age guidelines and warnings.
  • Everyone, even adults, in the area where children are playing with projectile toys should wear eye protection.


What You Need to Know About Screens and Eye Health

Hours spent in front of screens is hard work for the eyes. Prolonged screen time can cause digital eye strain—blurry vision, dry eyes, and neck or shoulder pain. Writing in the Washington Post, Dr. Zhong-Lin Lu, scientist who studies the visual system, explains how our eyes aren’t built to read on a screen. Our eyes must work harder because there is less contrast between the letters and the background than the printed page. Viewing the screen from different angles as well as reflection and glare contribute to the problem.


More screen time and less outdoor time may be associated with the risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness). Myopia is not a condition to dismiss. People with myopia need corrective lenses and regular eye exams. Those with severe myopia are more likely to develop conditions which can lead to vision impairment if left untreated.


A commonly recommended way to relieve the eyes is the 20-20-20 remedy. Every 20 minutes, remind your child to look into the distance at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. In addition to this remedy, Dr. Lu recommends sending your child outside. “The outdoor environment provides bright and full-spectral light, rich spatial patterns across a wide range of scales, and sharp images of distant objects.”


The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of 1 hour of physical activity per day and time away from media. Time outdoors helps accomplish both. This holiday season you can encourage outdoor activity by thoughtful gift selection. Here are a few ideas for younger children:

  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Outdoor playhouse
  • Inexpensive tent or fort to assemble in backyard
  • Jump rope
  • Tetherball set
    • Sandbox and toys
  • Rope swing
  • Tricycle, riding toys


Older children may enjoy these gifts to promote time outside:

  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Fitness tracker
  • Roller blades and pads
  • Skateboard and safety equipment
  • Metal detector
  • Bicycle and helmet
  • Soccer net

 Brenda Schoolfield is a medical writer and editor who lives in Austin. Sugar, her cocker spaniel and sometimes a rescue foster dog or two keep her company while she writes.

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