Laser Pointers and Eye Injury

Laser pointers shine a focused beam of high intensity light,
usually red. Laser pointers commonly used for corporate and classroom
presentations to highlight specific points or images on media screens.
Looking directly at the light beam of a laser pointer can
cause temporary vision loss and even permanent damage to the retina. When
children and young adults began purchasing laser pointers and using them as toys,
the danger was discovered. These extremely powerful devices can cause serious
and immediate eye injury. Manufacturers of laser pointers advertise them as
toys, even though they can cause blindness. Often on packaging of such devices
are not labeled as hazardous.
Laser pointers have also begun to be used as sighting
devices for paintball guns, because of the potential for eye injuries; the FDA
has now mandated that laser pointers carry warning labels mentioning possible
retinal damage.
In 2010, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a
consumer warning about high-powered laser pointers that are even more dangerous
than other types. The organization cited the case of a teenage boy who suffered
retinal injuries while playing with the pointer in front of a mirror. The case
was reported in the Sept. 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The
U.S. legal limit for handheld laser power is 5 mW, but the injured boy had
purchased a 150 mW device on the Internet. The Academy advised not pointing
lasers near the eye or near reflective surfaces.


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