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Nerf Guns Can Cause Serious Eye Injuries, Report Says, But Not For The Reason You Think

by Keiko Zoll

"You'll shoot your eye out!" Who can forget the mantra on the perils of BB guns from A Christmas Story that pretty much every millennial grew up watching every holiday season? Now, you can replace BMJ Case Reports as the new leading authority on the dangers of flying toy projectiles and the health of children's eyes — rather than Ralphie's mom. On Monday, a new medical report found that Nerf guns can cause serious eye injuries, and most people who grew up in the '90s probably aren't too surprised.

All kidding aside, the BMJ report takes a good hard look at the specific eye health dangers that Nerf guns can potentially cause. A spokesperson for Hasbro, the manufacturer that makes all Nerf products, emailed Romper the following response to the study:

Product safety is of utmost concern at Hasbro. NERF products are designed based on years of consumer insights and research, and undergo rigorous reviews and testing to assure that they are safe and fun to play with, and meet or exceed global standards and regulations. NERF foam darts and foam rounds are not hazardous when used properly. Consumers must never aim NERF blasters at a person’s eyes or face, should only use the foam darts and foam rounds designed for specific NERF blasters, and never modify darts or blasters. There are darts available to buy claiming to be NERF compatible, however these darts are not NERF-branded and may not meet safety standards and regulations.
Most of our NERF product line is age graded 8+, but we encourage parents and caregivers to read the packaging because some blasters are graded for older consumers.
It’s important to note that the NERF brand encourages parents and caregivers to be involved in aspects of their children’s development, including play. Ultimately, a parent or caregiver knows his or her child best and is best equipped to make decisions on what forms of play and entertainment are most appropriate for his or her child.

And Hasbro has a point. Before jumping into the study, it's important to note that any toy that shoots projectiles is dangerous if pointed at someone's face. Kids using these kinds of toys should always be under a parent or guardian's supervision.

This particular report looked at three different patients who came to the emergency department at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England after experiencing eye injuries after playing with Nerf guns. One such patient was an 11-year-old who was shot in the eye from a distance of only 6 feet away who experienced "traumatic hyphema" — and yes, the name is as scary as it sounds. TMI time: Hyphema is a condition in which blood fills in the space between the clear part of the eye, the cornea, and the colored part of the eye, the iris. This results in blurred vision and me desperately trying not to barf as I write about this.

Thankfully, the young patient in the BMJ report made a full recovery, but Dr. Mukhtar Bizrah, lead author of the study, told CNN that he was shocked to see such an injury resulting from something as common as a Nerf gun. "Nerf guns are used by children, and I was not expecting to see blood," Bizrah said. Agreed, Dr. Bizrah: When my husband and son conduct their own personal Nerf battles, I too, am not expecting to see blood — and honestly, no parent should, either.

While the "Nerf guns can cause eye injuries" when used improperly report seems like it comes straight from the files of Dr. Obvious, MD, pediatric eye injuries are no joke. According to Boston Children's Hospital, approximately 800,000 eye injuries occur in children younger than 17 every year in the United States. While most can think back to those close calls with a Nerf gun where they could shut their eyes in time, there are some kids who aren't so lucky and suffer permanent vision damage, including blindness, from a Nerf gun projectile when a gun isn't properly used.

That's one particular point of interest in the BMJ report: According to the study authors, the child who suffered injuries from a Nerf gun used a non-licensed projectile. Believe me, I get the urge to purchase cheaper foam darts that fit Nerf guns online: With how fast some of these Nerf guns actually fire, there are inevitably whole handfuls of foam darts that disappear into the recesses of the house or yard, and keeping one's Nerf ammunition in full supply can be costly. However, Bizrah notes that these off-brand foam darts may actually be harder and more dangerous than those produced by Hasbro.

The study authors have two main recommendations for anyone who wants to stage their own Nerf war at home: Nerf guns should only be used by older kids and eye protection is a must. While I can totally understand where the study authors are coming from, the reality is that young kids are going to run around like the little pre-school commandos they are, Nerf guns a-blazin', sans goggles. It's practically a childhood right of passage, even if it might be against the rules recommended by Hasbro for Nerf play.

But as a parent, I get it too: Our kids' safety is paramount, no matter the activity. When it's time to lock and load your Nerf gun with your kids, never aim for the face, use common sense, and have fun out there.

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