Two children shot in the eye with ‘gel blaster’ guns were lucky not to have been blinded and under-18s shouldn’t be allowed to buy them, doctors warn.
They explained the young boys’ injuries in a medical case report warning about the dangers of the blasters – spring-powered guns which fire gel pellets.
Gel blasters, also known as water ball guns or hydro-blaster guns, are in some places considered a toy but can seriously damage eyes, the doctors said.
Both the boys, who were aged 14 and four, temporarily lost vision in their eye and face a higher risk of irreversible damage in the future.
The doctors said sales of the guns, which are available on Amazon in the UK for as little as £15 and $17 in the US, should regulated in the same way as paintball and airsoft guns.
The 14-year-old suffered a scratch to his cornea and blood visible pooling in his eye – it took him three weeks to recover from the injury
Doctors from the opthalmology department at Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service reported the unnamed children’s injuries.
The 14-year-old was hit in the left eye with a gel ball fired from 10m (32 feet) away and was left in ‘severe pain’, vomiting and struggling to see.
The pressure inside his eye was about three times as high as in the healthy eye and blood pooled in front of his iris, leaving a black mark.
His cornea also had a 3mm (0.1 inch) scratch on it and his pupil became fully dilated.
It took three weeks – two of them on bed rest with his head elevated – for the eye to recover, but doctors warned he had started to develop a cataract.
The four-year-old boy was shot in the left eye with a gel ball by his brother ‘at close range’.
He also suffered from a tear on his cornea and blood pooling in his eye, and took three weeks to recover.
Gel blaster guns can be made to look like replicas of real guns and are available online for as little as £15. They’re often classed as toys which, doctors warn, plays down how dangerous they really are
The blasters use springs to fire gel pellets similarly to airsoft guns, and are part of a growing interest in simulated warfare games, the researchers said. They warned eye protection should always be worn when playing with the guns
HOW CAN BLUNT TRAUMA DAMAGE THE EYE?
Injury to the eye, known as ocular trauma, can cause blindness and destroy the eye in severe cases.
Blunt injuries to the eye can cause scratches on the cornea, the transparent layer on the front of the eye, making it difficult to see through.
They may also cause blood to pool in the eye if vessels are damaged, which can in some cases be seen as a black line or shape in the iris.
Both of these should heal with medical help.
However, more serious injuries may include glaucoma and cataracts.
Glaucoma can be brought on by injuries which trigger swelling or an increase of pressure in the eye, putting strain on the optic nerve and eventually damaging it so the patient can’t see well any more.
And a cataract – in which the lens of the eye clouds over so it can’t be seen through – may form if the injury is significant enough to damage the fibres which make up the lens.
After two months both had recovered completely but doctors said they will need long-term monitoring to look for signs of glaucoma and changes to their eyes’ lenses.
In their paper, the medics said the children’s injuries were ‘an ophthalmological emergency, with rapid and permanent vision loss possible if not managed appropriately’.
And they added the boys will now be at higher risk of glaucoma and could have suffered from infections, scars and injuries to the eye’s lens and macula.
‘The potential for blinding consequences from these “gel blasters” cannot be ignored,’ the doctors, led by Dr Rylan Hayes, wrote in BMJ Case Reports.
‘Categorising them as a toy may falsely reassure consumers.
‘A projectile – regardless of perceived power – should never be aimed at a person’s eyes, and appropriate eye protection should be worn whenever such items are in use.
‘Furthermore, these two cases involving children highlight that the product is inappropriate to be used by minors and – regardless of their categorisation – purchase and use should be appropriately age restricted.’
A lack of case reports published about injuries caused by the gel blasters means people may not take their risks seriously, the doctors added.
And they said authorities should have laws around the sale of the guns which are on a par with paintball and airsoft guns – in many places this is an 18-up age restriction.