Laser Pointers and Eye Damage

(December 29, 1997) - Laser pointers appear safe when held in the hand of speakers and teachers and pointed at a chart or screen. But now that these devices have dropped in price and are being marketed more widely, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has become concerned about the possibility of eye damage to children from hand-held laser pointers.

The warning by the FDA was triggered by two reports it received of eye injury from laser pointers. One report was from a parent, the other was from an ophthalmologist.

Momentary exposure from a laser pointer, such as from an accidental sweep of the laser light across the eyes, may only result in temporary flash blindness. However, even this can be quite dangerous if the blinded person is, as the FDA puts it, "engaged in a vision-critical activity" (like driving a car).

Temporary flash blindness is not the only worry at the FDA. "The light energy that laser pointers can aim into the eye can be more damaging than staring directly into the sun," according to the FDA on December 18.. ."These laser pointers are not toys. Parents should treat them with the appropriate care," said FDA Lead Deputy Commissioner Michael A. Friedman, M.D. "They are useful tools for adults that should be used by children only with adequate supervision."

MedicineNet agrees fully that these "laser pointers are not toys." We would suggest that laser pointers are safest not being in the hands of children at all.

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