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That’s One in Your Eye

The Nerf story is an interesting one. It began in 1970 with the launch of a foam ball with the slogan “Throw it indoors; you can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.” That range soon expanded to NERF blasters – toy plastic guns that shoot plastic-tipped foam darts, and has further grown to include sucker-tipped bullets, foam swords, melee weapons – and, it turns out, traumatic hyphema, if they hit your eye.

Mukhtar Bizrah and Seema Verma are, respectively, Registrar and Consultant ophthalmologists at Moorfields Eye Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department, and have seen the damage that a Nerf bullet can do to the eye (1). Two adults and an eleven-year-old boy presented to Moorfields’ A&E with at least 1 mm of traumatic hyphema – representing significant ocular trauma. Both adults experienced hyphema and uveitis, whereas the child had “formed hyphema, corneal edema, anterior uveitis, localized angle recession and commotio retinae.”

They also identified further potential dangers: one of the patients was hit with a third-party bullet that has a harder plastic tip than the original part. There’s also a cottage industry of ‘mods,’ with plenty of YouTube videos showing people how to alter their Nerf guns to fire bullets harder and faster. The manufacturers, Hasbro, state, “Nerf foam darts and foam rounds are not hazardous when used properly [...] 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.” Bottom line: if you’re playing with Nerf guns, consider protective eyewear. And they can definitely hurt babies.

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  1. M Bizrah, S Verma, “Nerf gun eye injuries: traumatic hyphema”, BMJ Case Rep, [Epub ahead of print] (2017). PMID: 28924000.
About the Author
Mark Hillen

I spent seven years as a medical writer, writing primary and review manuscripts, congress presentations and marketing materials for numerous – and mostly German – pharmaceutical companies. Prior to my adventures in medical communications, I was a Wellcome Trust PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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