Researchers have found that laser pointers can cause serious damage to the eyes. They may seem harmless and are often used by children, but they can lead to blurry vision or even permanent vision loss due to damaging the retinas.
A study conducted by researchers at RMIT University found that green laser pointers were anywhere from 51 to 127 times more powerful than safety regulations allow. The study also found that red laser pointers, while still a small concern, are not nearly as dangerous as their green counterparts.
While the study was performed in Australia, the United States Food and Drug Administration is concerned with the dangers lasers pointers pose, notes Newsmax. The US is especially concerned with the recreational use of laser pointers and has issued warnings to that effect in the past.
Clara Eaglen, the Eye Health Campaign’s manager, said, “The potential for retinal damage means that this issue should be taken seriously and RNIB believes that better regulation and warning signs are needed so that parents and the public in general are aware of the hazards of laser pointers.”
The potential for harm that laser pointers pose has become so striking that many are calling for adults in positions of leadership such as health professionals, teachers, and parents to caution and educate their children on potential dangers of laser pointers. England has many of the same standards that Australia does, and while their own laser pointers fall within these parameters, they are concerned that more powerful ones could be purchased online.
Maureen Salamon, writing for Healthday, notes the serious cases of four children who were the focus of a study recently. The children of the study, who were ages 9 to 16, all had serious damage to their retinas due to inappropriate use of laser pointers. The children were treated over a period of two years.
Dr. David Almeida, an ophthalmologist who lead the study of the children, said, “Location is everything when it comes to the retina. If the laser hits you at an angle … you may notice nothing and be totally asymptomatic. But if it hits your central vision, you may have dramatic loss of vision immediately that never recovers.”
Three of the four children of Almeida’s study have vision loss that may be permanent. Worse yet, imported laser pointers may be even worse due to poor manufacturing than the ones currently available, which could lead to even more eye damage.
The American National Standard Institute has regulations for laser pointers, but even these regulations may not be enough, notes Health News. Even with regulations, there is responsibility for consumers. Some laser pointers fall under class 3B or class 4 levels, which allow up to 500 milliwatts — a dangerous level if pointed into the retina.
“Unsupervised use of these laser pointer devices among children should be discouraged, and there is a need for legislation to limit these devices in the pediatric population,” Almeida says.
As Reuters notes, these children’s futures are at stake. If horseplay with laser pointers causes serious enough harm, they could lose sight enough to not be able to obtain a drivers license or may become legally blind. The damage laser pointers cause may happen quickly, and a treatment for the trauma inflicted may not be readily available. Some doctors say that treatments are scarce.