Oct. 25, 2006 -- Plan your parties and get your costumes -- Halloween is only days away. But the impending arrival of Oct. 31 also means pranksters may be planning something a little more sinister and dangerous.
You guessed it: egg tossing.
Getting pelted by raw eggs may result in serious eye injuries, and could even lead to blindness, according to recent British-based research published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.
Lobbing raw eggs at unsuspecting passers-by is not a harmless prank, as some Halloween tricksters might believe. Throwing scrambled eggs is probably safer, jokes Dr. Jon Durnian, lead author of the study from Royal Liverpool University Hospital.
But it's hardly a laughing matter. "This would be humorous were it not potentially tragic," says Dr. Richard Bensinger, a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Even an innocently thrown egg could cause serious damage.
U.K. doctors tracked all patients with egg-induced eye injuries who visited the primary care department at a Liverpool hospital between November 2004 and December 2005.
Of the 18,000 patients who needed eye treatment, 13 of them had sustained their injuries as a result of a raw egg assault. Most of those patients were injured on or around Halloween.
According to the study, only 1 of the 13 patients got to walk out of the hospital with eyesight intact. The other 12 suffered a range of serious injuries, including blindness and tears in the retina.
One victim, hit by a raw egg from a passing car, needed major surgery to restore his vision. After his initial injury, his damaged vision gradually improved over several days -- until he sneezed. The force of that sneeze -- likely combined with his previous injuries, study authors suggest -- worsened his vision. The man later suffered a detached retina but was treated successfully.
The researchers emphasize that the seemingly-innocuous egg is, in fact, a dangerous weapon.
"The dimensions of an egg are similar to those of a squash ball, with a considerably greater weight, meaning that eggs as missiles can easily fit into the orbital rim, causing severe blunt injury, even when thrown by hand," the authors write in their study.
Eye injuries from raw egg assaults may be rare, but it isn't unusual for seemingly fun activities to turn dangerous. A game of badminton can take your eye out too, for example.
"In Malaysia, a very common eye injury is caused by badminton birdies fired at high speed in the course of ordinary game playing, frequently destroying the eye of the receiver," says Bensinger.
Obviously, the potential danger of a playful activity depends on what you're playing with. "The famous tomato-throwing festival in Spain is not reported to cause any eye damage," Besinger says. "I am sure the fragile outer coating of the fruit limits the damage."
Experts point out that Easter egg injuries aren't as common as raw egg injuries in October. The study's authors say the belief that egg-throwing is a harmless Halloween prank is misplaced.
"We thought a public health message may be warranted," says Durnian.
Durnian and his team might have been right. Egg-throwing in the United Kingdon is, apparently, sometimes encouraged.
"During the research, one leading U.K. supermarket rebranded some of their eggs as 'mischief eggs,' and sold them to be thrown," Durnian says.
"So we knew that we had to get a message across."