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November 13, 2017

Keep an eye out: Nerf guns may be more dangerous than you think, doctors warn

Daily Briefing

    Nerf "blasters"—popular toy guns that shoot foam darts—might not be as safe as once thought, according to a report in BMJ Case Reports

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    According to BBC, Nerf blasters are toy guns, manufactured by Hasbro, for children ages 8 and older. Hasbro recommends users rely only on Hasbro-branded darts for the blasters, but other manufacturers sell off-brand, Nerf-compatible darts online, often at cheaper prices, BBC reports. Hasbro cautions users against aiming the toys at someone's eyes or face.

    Details on case studies

    In the report, two physicians at the Moorfields Eye Hospital voiced concerns about the potential dangers of Nerf guns after treating three patients who suffered eye injuries after playing with the toys.

    The patients included:

    • A 32-year-old man who presented with blurred vision and a red eye after being shot in the eye by a child with a Nerf gun from 8 meters away;
    • A 43-year-old woman who had blurred vision and pain in her right eye after being shot with a Nerf gun from about a meter away; and
    • An 11-year-old child who had suffered a swollen cornea and retina after being shot by a Nerf gun in his right eye from about 2 meters away.

    According to the physicians, all of the patients had uveitis, or inflammation of the eye, and hyphema, or the pooling of blood at the back of the eye. The patients were treated with eye drops, and by the time of their follow-up appointments, the bleeding in their eyes had stopped and their vision was fully restored.  

    Potentially dangerous toys

    According to the case study, one major contributing factor to Nerf gun injuries was the use of off-brand darts that may be made of firmer foam than Hasbro-branded darts. The physicians, who reviewed one of the off-brand darts brought in by a patient, in the case report said the "unlabeled brand by which the patient was injured was more firm" than the Hasbro-brand darts.

    That said, the physicians noted that the Hasbro-branded darts can still pose dangers based on the speed at which the toy guns shoot the darts. Separately, Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, pointed out that "the most recent versions of Nerf darts available on the market have a redesigned tip, which makes them more precise, and therefore at greater risk for inflicting eye injuries."

    Glatter added that injuries from Nerf guns—unlike those presented in the case study—may not always be temporary. "Ongoing visual check-ups are required after such injuries, with the potential for development of glaucoma—elevated eye pressure—requiring eye drops," he said.

    Recommendations going forward

    The study authors, as well as Glatter, recommended people using Nerf guns wear protective eyewear.  

    "This case series emphasi[z]es the seriousness of eye injury from Nerf gun projectiles and calls into consideration the need for protective eyewear with their use," the study authors wrote. However, the physicians called for further research into whether such toy guns are causing an increase in eye injuries.

    The physicians added that based on the cases they assessed, they could not recommend a safe distance for shooting the toys to avoid injury.

    Meanwhile, Glatter also called for "stronger warning labels … to alert parents to the potential for serious eye injuries and risk for permanent vision loss if teens and children play with these 'toys.'"

    Separately, Hasbro in a statement said the company prioritized consumer safety and cautioned against off-brand use. "NERF foam darts and foam rounds are not hazardous when used properly," the statement read. "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" (Preidt, U.S. News & World Report, 9/19; BBC News, 9/19).

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