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Published on December 22, 2015

Apparently, you really can shoot your eye outApparently, you really can shoot your eye out

In that holiday classic, A Christmas Story, 9-year-old Ralphie Parker only wants one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle.

When he tells his mother about his request, she pulls “the classic mother BB gun block” and says, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” He hears the same warning from his teacher and a department store Santa.

The movie is hilarious, but in real life those kinds of accidents are on the rise. According to researchers at Stanford University Medical School, children who sustained eye injuries from non-powder guns rose by more than 500 percent between 2010 and 2012, with more than 3,000 injuries treated in emergency centers in 2012 alone.

The culprits are paintball guns, airsoft guns, pellet guns and, yes, BB guns.

“There are all kinds of air soft guns on the market now and Nerf guns always come out with pretty good force, so there’s not a big surprise there,” said Craig Cornwall, MD, medical director of the Cape Cod Hospital Emergency Center.

“They are definitely safer in terms of major injuries, but the one place you can really get hurt with these things is the eye,” he said.

“Eyes have good reflexes so for the most part you’re going to close them unless there’s something coming at them really quickly like BBs, or propelled things. It’s usually things that move really fast that injure eyes.”

Dr. Cornwall has seen plenty of eye injuries caused by toy guns at the emergency center. Thankfully, most of them are things like scratched corneas that aren’t too serious, but if there is enough pressure there can be deeper injuries that can affect vision.

For that reason, he recommends that children who play with these toys always wear eye protection like goggles or safety glasses.

But guns aren’t the only danger when it comes to toys. Surprisingly, the toy that is the scariest is one that most parents might not even consider, Dr. Cornwall said.

“Sledding is remarkably dangerous,” he said. “I’ve seen two kids die from sledding accidents in my career. They were both head injuries so helmets would help with that.”

If you’re going to let your children go sledding this winter, make sure they stay away from hills on the edge of woods, he advised. When kids take a tumble going down a slope, they might break an arm, but when a child on a sled hits something immobile like a tree or stump, they can be in a lot of trouble.

“The vast majority of injuries I see with toys are the things you would expect like skateboards, scooters and trampolines – the notoriously high risk stuff,” Dr. Cornwall said. “Anytime you put a moving object on pavement that goes 10 to 15 miles an hour, the potential for injury is there.”

Even though skateboards are low to the ground, they can get going pretty fast and Dr. Cornwall has seen some terrible injuries. Since the most common injuries are to the head or wrist, he recommends a helmets and wrist guards for all riding toys, including bikes.

In the past 20 years, the government and consumer groups have demanded more from toy manufacturers. All toys with possible choking hazards are labeled as such and not recommended for kids under 3.

Parents should be mindful of younger siblings when buying any toys with possible choking hazards, but Dr. Cornwall said in his experience choking on toys isn’t a huge thing to worry about.

“Most of the choking I see with kids is usually not with toys,” he said. “It’s with an adult object. They’ll get into erasers or the suction devices on windows. But I see kids get into other stuff that they’re not supposed to get into, like super glue.

Or they’ll take little beads and put them up their nose and things like that. Kids are resourceful. You really have to be careful.”