The analogy between sports and war is apparent in many athletic endeavors. Nowhere is it more pronounced than in the game of paintball.
Paintball is played by teams on an outdoor field with designated safety zones. The object is to shoot opponents with a small, gelatin capsule filled with paint. The weapon is an air-powered gun that shoots these capsules at high velocities. If a player is struck during a volley, it leaves a small welt.
Unfortunately, shooting paintballs has resulted in an increasing number of serious eye injuries. Organized paintball requires the use of a hard plastic mask with eye protection. No eye injuries have been reported when this apparatus is worn properly.
As in many activities, there is an organized version with rules, regulations and officials, as well as a backyard version without any of the above. The backyard approach has developed into a no-holds-barred free-for-all with weapons.
Nathan Lazourack is the owner of Final Shot Paintball in Voluntown, Connecticut. His facility supplies protective equipment including referees for all participants.
“Many corporations rent the field for a day and use paintball as a team-building exercise,” Lazourack said.
He reports that the problems come when parents buy these guns for their children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics cites an increasing number of serious eye injuries due to unsupervised paintball play.
Peter McKay, MD, a local ophthalmologist on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff, has treated several patients with eye injuries from playing paintball. Half of these patients have had at least partial permanent visual loss and some have had complete loss of vision in severely traumatized eyes.
A friendly game of paintball can be a great way to enjoy time with mature friends in the outdoors. Physicians support any patient increasing their level of physical activity. In the case of paintball, careful attention is necessary regarding the potential risks and benefits.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, listen to his podcasts, go to the Healthy Sports blog at backushospital.org or buy his book at the Backus Hospital Gift Shop.