Laser pointers can be useful during a presentation, but they aren’t as helpful to your eyes. According to recent reports, a 15-year-old Swedish boy permanently damaged his eyes after ordering a powerful laser pointer from the Internet. Doctors are quick to add their warning to consumers and recently called the availability of these powerful lasers a “public health concern”.
If that’s not enough to scare you from pointing a laser beam at your eye, the 15-year-old boy lost the vision in his left eye so bad that he couldn’t count fingers on someone’s hand from just three feet away. The FDA imposes a federal restriction on the strength of laser beams, but stronger pointers are available on-line. In fact, the boy’s particular laser pointer was 30 times the legal limit in the U.S. But even the less powerful FDA-approved versions can still hurt your eyes with prolonged exposure.
According to the boy, he bought the pointer to burn holes in paper and his sister’s shoes and to pop balloons. While he was playing with his new toy one day, he decided that he would shine the beam at the bathroom mirror to create a “light show”. During that incident, he accidentally zapped the beam in his eyes several times. He admits that he immediately noticed that he had blurry vision, but didn’t want to tell his parents for fear of getting in trouble. Unfortunately, he hid the problem for two weeks from his parents, exacerbating the problem further until he couldn’t ignore it any longer. By the time he got to the doctor’s office, he had hemorrhaging in one eye and scarring in the other. Even after four months his vision showed some improvement, but was still moderately impaired. The FDA has warned in the past that it has found laser pointers that exceed the 5 milliwatt limit, but rarely collects information about accidents caused by laser pointers the way other countries do. However, FDA health promotion officer Dan Hewett urges parents to make sure laser pointer labels carry a designation of Class IIIa or lower, along with a statement of compliance with Chapter 21 CFR. Hewett also suggests looking on the label to make sure the power output is no more than 5 milliwatts, or 5 mW. Nevertheless, even weaker laser pointers that do comply with FDA regulations can cause permanent eye damage if they are used improperly.