Laser Pointers and Eye Safety
I was recently asked about the topic of eye safety and laser pointers, which sparked my interest since many parents are buying holiday gifts, many of which may contain a laser feature. To help investigate the issue, I reached out to my colleagues in the Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Are Laser Pointers Dangerous?
Five milliwatts (mW) and above
Lasers with an output of more than five mW can cause irreversible damage to your child’s eye. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourage people to avoid buying lasers or items with lasers if the laser power is more than five mW.
Below five milliwatts
If the laser power is less than five mW it can cause damage to your child’s eye only if they stare at it for a long period of time. While doing research for this blog post, I read about a man who ran an experiment to see if a laser pointer could damage his eyes. He looked into the laser pointer for 30 to 60 seconds in one eye. He ended up with a headache and temporary damage to his eye. “Lasers should not be used as toys—they can cause serious injury to the eye that is both immediate and long terms,” says Garret Salzman, program assistant, Injury Prevention Program.
Laser Pointers and Toys
Many toys offer cool laser features, which open the risk of your child looking directly into the laser and being injured. “Laser injuries usually don’t hurt, but vision can deteriorate over time,” states the FDA in a recent article about toys and lasers. For example, I read about a young patient who damaged both eyes because a laser beam was pointed at both eyes for more than ten seconds.
Since children are most at risk because they may accidentally look at a laser, point a laser at their siblings or friends or not know how to properly handle toys with a laser feature, it’s recommended not to buy toys with lasers or have adult supervision when playing with them. This includes:
- Toy guns
- Spinning tops that project laser beams
- Hand-held lasers like lightsabers and light-up swords
- Toys that create visual effects in an open room
Things to remember:
- The human eye is extremely sensitive to laser radiation.
- Stronger laser exposure can cause severe permanent vision loss.
- Laser pointer beams can cause visual loss which may not be permanent but can last for months.
- The treatment for laser retinal injuries is very limited, so prevention is key.
- With laser use increasing in the home and workplace, education should focus on not using the beams to dazzle or harass others even briefly, and keeping these lasers away from young children.
There are times that lasers do serve a purpose; for example, presentations at work and conferences. Garret offers these two safety tips if you own a laser for these purposes:
- Use a laser that is below five milliwatts (mW).
- Store the laser pointer in a secure area—for example, a drawer with a lock or safe.
Lasers can be hard to avoid with many of the modern toys marketed to children nowadays. Teach your child the dangers of laser points and that they’re not to be used as toys or looked at directly. If you do buy a gift with a laser feature, just make sure it’s below five mW and age-appropriate for your child.