Eye trauma from paintball injuries are increasing in incidence. In the 1950s, paintballs were developed by foresters and farmers to mark trees and livestock from a distance. In 1981, paintball games for recreational purposes were created by a variety of manufacturers. It is estimated that there are now over 10 million paintball-game players in America.
Paintballs are widely considered to be benign instruments. However, paintball can cause severe eye damage. Manufacturers often recommend the use of facial shields for protection. Despite this admonition, proper eye protection is often not used by paintball users or observers.
A study from the University of Miama that covered a span of about seven years detailed the course of results of paintball injuries to the eye. Of 36 paintball injuries, the mean age was 21 years, and ranged from 3 to 64. Ninety-seven percent of injured patients were not wearing a protective eye device when injured. In seventy-eight percent of of eyes, the best-corrected visual acuity at initial assessment was worse than 20/300. The most common form of injury was layered blood in the anterior chamber of the eye. This is known as hyphema. The most common injuries involving the posteriot portion of the eye included vitreous hemorrhage and retinal edema. A substantial percentage of patients (19%) developed a retinal detachment, and 25% required repaitr of a rupturedc eyeball. Overall, 81% required surgical treatment during the course of follow-up. A significant number of patients needed enucleation (22%) and 50% of patients had a final visual acuity of worse tan 20/200.
Despite advanced methods of treatment for ocular injuries, eye trauma from paintball injuries can be a significant cause of vision loss. It is important to recognize that protective eyewear can prevent many of the severe injuries associated either paintball trauma to the eye. Since many paintball game participants are children, it is also important for parents to be aware of the potential dangers of paintball trauma and guide their children in the proper use of protective eyewear.