Don't toy with children's eyes at Christmas is a warning officials of the National Society to Prevent Blindness-Utah Affiliate want parents to remember as they go about their Christmas shopping.

An estimated 21,000 eye injuries were linked to toys and sports equipment used by children last year; 75 percent of these accidents were suffered by youngsters under age 15.Colleen Malouf, society executive director, said playthings with pieces that shoot or fly off are particularly dangerous to eyes and should be avoided.

A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission survey of hospital emergency rooms shows that children under age 15 were the victims of eye injuries predominantly from slingshots or sling-propelled toys, toy guns and other toy weapons with projectiles. BB and pellet guns are particularly hazardous to children's eyes and should not be considered toys, Malouf warned. Not only are BB and pellet gun eye injuries frequent, they are also severe, often resulting in loss of the eye.

Malouf said 90 percent of all eye injuries are preventable. Safety-conscious adults can protect children from eye damage, or even the loss of an eye, by several means:

-Choose toys and games carefully. In some cases, the child may be too young to use a particular toy safely. Factors such as strength, coordination and ability to follow instructions should be taken into account.

-Teach children how to play safely with toys and supervise their use.

-Insist that children have and use protective eyewear for games that require them. Baseball, basketball, football and racquet sports are the source of a great many eye injuries to children. The right face shield or sports goggles can greatly reduce the risk of eye accidents.

-Be aware of the risks posed by gifts for older children as well. Chemistry and science sets, craft and hobby kits often involve projects requiring safety glasses. Activities such as wood burning, mixing chemicals, and use of fast-acting glues are a few examples.

The society recommends a universal Christmas gift for all members of the family, including do-it-yourselfers, sports enthusiasts, weekend mechanics, home gardener, gourmet cooks and children.

"Don't overlook safety eye wear as presents that could save the vision of the ones you love," Malouf said. "Safety glasses play a major role in eye protection."