Air guns are notoriously hazardous to the eyes. But new findings suggest these guns are harming more eyes than ever before. Eye injuries from paintball, pellet, airsoft and BB guns have risen by 50 percent since 1990 — even as injuries to other body parts become less common.

Now, experts are calling for mandatory eye protection.

Why are air guns dangerous?

Far from a toy, an airsoft gun or air gun is a replica of a real firearm that shoots small, lightweight plastic bullets or BBs. Since 2010, the number of people admitted to the hospital for eye injuries from air guns has increased by a staggering 600 percent. In fact, most children’s eye injuries that led to a hospital admission were caused by air guns.

Unfortunately, eye damage from an air gun injury is often long-lasting. In one study, about 3 out of 10 young patients who suffered air-gun injuries still had poor eyesight after treatment, with visual acuity worse than 20/50.

Here are the most common types of eye injuries from air guns:

· bleeding inside the eye (hyphema)

· scrapes on the surface of the eye (corneal abrasion)

· detached retina

· dislocated lens inside the eye

· rupture of the eyeball

Protective eyewear should be mandatory, experts say

Studies suggest that most air gun eye injuries occur in children who are not wearing eye protection. There are no federal laws in the U.S. that regulate air guns or require safety goggles. Many states allow children under the age of 18 to buy and use these so-called “toy” weapons. Without using these guns responsibly, kids—and adults—are risking their vision.

Learn more from the American Academy of Ophthalmology