Toys to Avoid to Keep Your Child's Eyes Safe
What child doesn't like toys? And what parent or grandparent doesn't enjoy buying a fun gift for their young loved ones?
But some toys that look really fun can pose a serious risk of eye injuries including serious injuries that can result in permanent vision loss.
Toy-Related Eye Injuries
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, roughly a quarter of a million children are seen in the nation's hospital emergency departments each year due to toy-related injuries.
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Nearly half of these injuries are to the head and face, and many are eye injuries. And about 35 percent of toy-related injuries are sustained by children under age 5.
But eye safety is often the last thing on people's minds when buying toys for children.
Online surveys conducted recently by AllAboutVision.com revealed that 41 percent of parents either "rarely" or "never" considered eye safety when choosing toys for their kids.
At the same time, when asked whether any of the toys their children own could cause harm to their eyes, 54 percent of parents responded "definitely," and 22 percent said "possibly."
Common eye injuries caused by mishaps with toys can range from a minor scratch to the front surface of the eye (called a corneal abrasion) to very serious, sight-threatening injuries such as corneal ulcers, traumatic cataracts, bleeding inside the eye and retinal detachment.
Clearly, it's time for some rethinking about how we buy toys, to protect children's eyes from damage.
Six Kinds of Toys That Pose a High Risk for Eye Injuries
Here's a list of six types of toys you might want to cross off your list when buying gifts for young children. Each has a high potential risk for eye injuries especially if used by young children without adult supervision and guidance:
Aerosol string that hits the eye can cause a painful irritation of the eye called chemical pink eye.
Toy fishing poles can be especially dangerous to the eyes of nearby children.
Party foam can cause a chemical burn to the eyes that can result in red eyes, blurred vision and eye infections.
- Guns that shoot ANY type of projectile. This includes toy guns that shoot lightweight, cushy darts. You might think these soft projectiles would pose little or no risk, but toy guns of this type can shoot up to distances of 75 feet, and the darts move at speeds fast enough to cause a serious eye injury especially when used at close range indoors. Examples: Nerf Vortex Nitron; Nerf Rebelle Sweet Revenge Dart Kit (both by Hasbro).
- Water balloon launchers and water guns. Water balloons can cause serious blunt trauma to the eye that can cause a retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. Even toy guns that shoot a stream of water can cause serious eye damage, especially when used at close range. Examples: SuperSoaker Scatter Blast Water Blaster (SuperSoaker); Nerf Super Soakers (Hasbro); Water Sports TL-500 Stream Machine (Water Sports); Water Blaster XLR Water Cannon (Water Blaster).
- Games that include toy fishing poles. The end of a toy fishing pole or objects secured to the end of the fishing line can easily end up in a playmate's eye. Examples: Ertl John Deere Electronic Fishing Pole (Tomy); Catch of the Day (Small World Toys).
- Toy wands, swords, sabers or guns with bayonets. There's really no need to explain why these are a bad idea, right? Examples: Deluxe Ninja LED Sword (FlashingBlinkyLights); Rapid Fire Machine Gun with Revolving Bullet Belt, Bayonet, Lights & Sounds (Combat 3); Rapid Fire Machine Gun with Lights & Sound (Forces of Valor).
- Aerosol string. The chemicals in these products can cause eye irritation and a type of pink eye called chemical conjunctivitis. When used at close range, aerosol string also can cause a corneal abrasion that could lead to serious eye infections. Examples: Silly String (Silly String Products); Streamer String (Amscan); Turbo Spackle String Blaster (Big Time Toys).
- Laser pointers and bright flashlights. Though technically not toys, many children love to play "laser tag" or "flashlight tag." Portable laser pointers, like those used for business presentations, should never be used by children, as the light intensity of these devices is sufficient to cause permanent vision loss. Even high-powered LED flashlights can be dangerous, because they can cause temporary blindness, putting children at risk of a fall or other accident.
W.A.T.C.H. List of Worst Toys for 2013
World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) is devoted to protecting children from unsafe toys, and each year during the holiday season, the organization releases a list of 10 nominees for the year's worst toys.
Before you shop for toys, take a look at the four items below. All are on the 2013 list, which focused on toy weapons, and all could be hazardous to kids' eyes.
These and other toys were cited by W.A.T.C.H. as potentially hazardous to children.
Max Steel Interactive Steel with Turbo Sword by Mattel is a rigid plastic sword that's about two feet long. According to W.A.T.C.H., the package recommends the toy for ages 4+ and encourages kids to "attach steel to turbofy" the sword. W.A.T.C.H. says the blade could potentially cause facial or other impact injuries.
A dart gun called the Nerf N-Strike Jolt Blaster by Hasbro is recommended for ages 8+ and carries the warning "Do not aim at eyes or face," though the manufacturer also urges kids to hide it in their pocket to "get the drop on your unsuspecting target!" The darts come out forcefully enough to potentially cause an eye injury.
You might not consider this a toy, but the Black Widow Folding Slingshot by Barnett Outdoors was purchased online in Amazon.com's "Toys & Games" section, where it was advertised as suitable for ages 6 months and up. At the time of this writing, Amazon had apparently removed the slingshot from that section, but the site continued to sell other slingshots in "Toys & Games." Slingshots can be very dangerous to eyes, and children should not be allowed to use them unsupervised. Several states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington and Rhode Island, don't allow slingshots to be sold as toys.
The manufacturer's website says the Boomerang Throw & Catch by Kole Imports "might not be suitable for children under the age of 3," but W.A.T.C.H. maintains that boomerangs should not be sold for children of any age. It makes sense: If adults have difficulty controlling the trajectory of a boomerang, it's very unlikely that a young child could throw it well enough to avoid impact injuries to himself or other people.
We've also included here two toys from the 2012 W.A.T.C.H. list, because they are still on the market:
The Dart Zone Quickfire 12 Dart Gun by Prime Time Toys fires foam darts from a semi-automatic rotating barrel. The gun can shoot six darts in seconds, with enough force to potentially cause serious and sight-threatening eye injuries. While the packaging stipulates it is suitable for children age 6+, it has been marketed online for babies as young as 7 months. Like Ralphie's Red Ryder BB gun from A Christmas Story, this toy could very well "shoot your eye out!"
Also on the list is the Nerf Vendetta Double Sword by Hasbro, recommended online for ages 6+. According to the product description, the "fearsome megablade is over 4.5 feet long and splits into two swords, one for each hand." What it fails to mention is that the sword could cause serious eye and other impact injuries. But it does offer some cautionary advice: "Do not poke or swing at people or animals." Easier said than done in the hands of a 6-year-old!
Toy guns with sighting scopes held close to the eye can easily cause a painful corneal abrasion.
Eye-Safe Toy Shopping Tips
If you are buying toys for grandchildren or the children of other relatives or friends, ask for suggestions from the child's parents. Discuss any toys you are thinking about purchasing before doing so, to make sure the child's parents are okay with the type of toy you are considering.
Also, it's usually best to shop for children's toys in a store rather than online so you can see the toy's features up close to help you decide if it's safe enough for a young child.
Although toy packaging usually includes a recommended age range of children for whom the toy was designed, keep in mind that these are general guidelines only. A toy that may be appropriate for one child may not be safe for another child of the same age, depending on their level of maturity and personality.
In fact, age ranges on toy labels often defy common sense. We saw a pointy toy sword online that was labeled as suitable for 3-year-olds!
Also, keep in mind when buying toys for older children that they may have younger siblings who could have access to the toys. So a new toy may not end up in the hands of the child you bought it for.
For more tips on choosing toys that are age-appropriate and eye-safe, please read our article, "Toys and Eye Safety."
[Page updated June 2014]