The Montreal Children's Hospital is calling for paintball arenas to refuse entry to children under the age of 16, after treating a child who might lose his eye over the popular action game.

Last week, an 11-year-old boy had just lifted his mask when he was shot point blank in the eye by an adult playing on the same field. Doctors said the damage is so severe and the bleeding so excessive, they're not sure whether his eye can be saved.

"Some of the most serious eye injuries that have been seen by the ophthalmologists have been related to paintball," said Debbie Friedman, director of the trauma program at Montreal Children's Hospital. "It's a blunt trauma and blunt traumas are very serious injuries."

Paintball has become extremely popular with people of all ages. Players gather in teams to shoot the opposition with paint pellets that fly up to speds of 300 km per hour. The challenge however, is not in shooting the pellets, but dodging them.

"Sometimes I get hit, but I just take the pain," said one teenaged enthusiast.

But the pain comes at too high a price, said Friedman, which is why operators of paintball centres are being asked to take action.

"You have to have a sense of maturity and an understanding of how to avoid getting hurt yourself but also the implications of what it means when you shoot a paintball at somebody's face or somebody's eye," Friedman said.

The hospital's plea might be falling on deaf ears considering the industry is self-regulated. It's up to the owners to make and enforce the rules.

Philippe Estrela, owner of Skorpion Paintball in Laval, said he has some effective rules in place but that it's also up to the parents to be vigilant and ask the right questions.

"Will there be a referee at all times on the field? Is there an age minimum? If somebody tells you there is no age minimum, already there's something's fishy," said Estrela.

Estrela said at his centre, there are rules in place so that people of all ages and experience can have fun and be safe at the same time. Children under 12 aren't allowed to play and groups are divided according to age and experience. So far, in the five years he's been operating, no injuries have been reported, he said.

However, the danger continues to lurk at home as paintball equipment can be easily bought online. One father hanging out at Skorpion with his two sons told CTV News as long as his boys follow the basic rules, there's no danger.

Friedman said it's a risk she'd rather parents not take.

There are several documented cases where children have been severely injured by a paintball gun. In 2005, at the same facility where the 11-year-old was hit, Daniel Romagnolo was also shot in the eye and today, despite several surgeries, he suffers from permanent damage.

The Children's Hospital reports in the past five years, they've treated 10 major paintball injuries.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in the late 1980s found 17 people out of 44 injured by paintball pellets became legally blind. Thirteen became visually impaired and only 14 regained normal vision. They also found that most of the injuries happen at home and not at arenas where goggles are mandatory.

A later study published by U.S. journal, Pediatrics, estimated that more than 40 per cent of paintball injuries happened to children.

With a report by CTV Montreal's Annie DeMelt