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, more than a quarter of a million children were seen in the nation's hospital emergency departments in 2017 due to toy-related injuries.
Nearly half of these injuries were to the head and face, and many were eye injuries.
Of the 251,700 estimated toy-related injuries treated in emergency departments in 2017, approximately 69% of the injuries affected children 12 years of age or younger, and 36% happened to children younger than 5.
But eye safety often is the last thing on people's minds when buying toys for children.
Online surveys conducted by All About Vision revealed that 41% 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 have could cause harm to their eyes, 54% of parents responded "definitely," and 22% 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, we need to start thinking about protecting our children's eyes before we buy new toys.
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:
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.
Water balloon launchers and water guns. Water balloons can cause serious blunt trauma to the eye that can cause retinal detachment and lead to permanent vision loss. Even toy guns that shoot a stream of water can cause serious eye damage, especially when used at close range.
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.
Toy wands, swords, sabers or guns with bayonets. There's really no need to explain why these are a bad idea, right?
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.
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.
"Worst Toys of 2019" list
World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) is a nonprofit organization that was founded to protect children from harm (and even death) from unsafe toys. At the beginning of the holiday season each year, the organization releases its list of 10 nominees for the year's worst toys.
Here are three toys from W.A.T.C.H.'s list of nominees for the "10 Worst Toys of 2019," each noted for its particular dangers to children's eyes:
Nerf Ultra One blaster. This colorful plastic gun — marketed by Hasbro to children as young as 8 years old — boasts the "farthest flying Nerf dart ever." It can fire 25 darts in a row up to 120 feet with "pinpoint accuracy" and "powerful speed." Marketed by Hasbro.
Pogo Trick Board. With a "high bounce ball" and "dual handles for tricking out," Flybar's Pogo Trick Board is designed for children as young as 6. While it includes a manufacturer warning to wear a helmet and "other protective gear," this "crazy jumper" could easily lead to head and impact injuries. It doesn't help that only two of the three children pictured on the packaging are wearing helmets, and none appear to have any other protective gear.
Power Rangers Electronic Cheetah Claw. Children as young as 5 are encouraged by manufacturer Hasbro to use the “strength of the Cheetah Claw” to “imagine battling monsters and villains.” To extend the claw and activate the sound effects, a child must strap the hard plastic role play toy to their hand and make a (very safe, gentle and controlled) slashing motion. As the toy's packaging warns: "CAUTION: Do not hit or swing at people or animals. Use away from breakable objects."
READ MORE: View the complete "10 Worst Toys of 2019" on the W.A.T.C.H. website.
Many well-known retailers carry eye-hazardous toys, including Amazon, Walmart and Target. You can send these retailers a message by refusing to buy such products.
Tips for choosing eye-safe toys
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're thinking about purchasing to make sure the child's parents are okay with the type of toy you're 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. It's possible 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."
Notes and References
Page updated January 2021