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Blinded By a Flash? No, But Other Hazards Exist for Kids' Eyes

Camera Flash

Every now and then, we hear a false alarm about children's eye safety. It happened recently in China, when a major newspaper claimed a three-month-old infant had been blinded by a flashbulb. But that's "total bunk," say experts, including Robert Hoffman, MD, an ophthalmologist with Moran Eye Center. (Parents may have heard that a flash bulb can sometimes reveal retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eye, if the child's pupil appears to be opaque and white in a photo, but the camera only shows the damage, it has nothing to do with causing it.)

Hoffman says that the eye injuries he sees in children are often preventable and caused by sheer lack of common sense. The old "don't play with sharp things or someone's eye will get poked out" is as true as it ever was.

Children's Eye Safety Month

August is "Children's Eye Safety Month," so here's his word on toys and other dangers that are regularly causing serious eye injuries in infants and teens:

  • BB guns should come with eye protection. Since most do not, you need to buy protective eyewear for your kids and make sure they wear it.
  • Airsoft pellet guns are not for kids. Hoffman has even treated children injured by parents who shoot the guns at them. The propulsion is significant and can cause blunt trauma to the eye—corneal abrasions, hyphema (bleeding in the front of the eye), and cataracts to name a few. "I tell parents it's the same as paint ball, where they do provide eye protection and people keep it on. I'd treat airsoft pellet guns the same way."
  • Every year Hoffman treats kids with devastating eye injuries caused by fireworks—ruptured globes (where the eyeball splits open), cataracts, serious cuts, and burns. If it shoots from a container, monitor and control it and keep the kids far away. This year Hoffman cared for a two-year-old whose eye was severely injured by a bottle rocket.
  • If you insist on giving kids sparklers, give them gloves and eye protection. This is one area, Hoffman says, where parents commonly don't spot the danger. "Did you know that if you used sparklers in an industrial setting, OSHA would require goggles and gloves? So think about the fact that we turn kids loose with sparklers while they're wearing shorts and flipflops."
  • Another common cause of eye trauma is sports. Baseball and soccer present the most danger. While a baseball can land square on an eye or the side of the head, a soccer ball can also cause eye trauma if the ball hits the side of the eye or the head.

What About Laser Pointers?

"Laser pointers are never a great idea for kids' toys, but if you do let kids play with them just make sure they are labeled as low output—never more than 5 milliwatts," says Hoffman. The FDA has regulated that aspect, so buy locally—never online. Tops that spin and emit laser beams are generally safe, but again—check to make sure they're made in the US and labeled as such.