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Paintball safety: the eyes should have it

January 17, 2009 |  9:00 am

Paintball has evolved into a sport with millions of participants, products galore and formal competitions and events. At those events participants are required to wear safety gear, including protective eyewear. And that’s a good thing. Because those who play without that gear can get into some trouble.

PaintballA recent study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology revealed that serious eye injuries can be a consequence of playing paintball without protective gear. Researchers examined records from 36 patients who were treated for paintball-related eye injuries at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami from 1998 to 2005. Patients were mostly male, average age 21, and all were hurt while playing recreationally in an uncontrolled setting. And in all but one case, the players were not wearing eye protection.

It may be a "duh" moment to conclude that they suffered damage, but some of the damage was severe: 81% of the patients required surgery, and 22% of those had to have an eye removed. Some whose eyes were saved had permanent vision loss. Eyeball ruptures occured in 28% of people, and 19% had detached retinas.

In the study, which appears in the February issue of the journal, the authors wrote, "The manufacturers and serious users recognize the need for safety measures; it is a tragedy that the vast majority of such injuries are preventable through the scrupulous use of protective eyewear. ... That no injuries occurred in the current study in an organized setting attests to the effective safety precautions of manufacturers and organized groups."

So just like your mother used to tell you -- you can put an eye out.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / LA Times