Risk of Eye Injury from Handheld Laser Pointers

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Dr Martin Schmid, head of the retina unit in the department of ophthalmology at Lucerne Cantonal Hospital in Switzerland and colleagues are shedding light on the risks of eye injuries from laser points.
Earlier this week a report by Schmid and colleagues was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The report focuses on a 15-year-old Swiss boy who burned his eyes while trying to create his own “laser show” which bounced the laser beam off a mirror. He noticed immediate blurred vision in both of his eyes after the light beam hit his eyes several times.

Laser pointers may cause subretinal hemorrhage in macula.

The report notes that at the time of initial evaluation, the teen’s vision in his left eye was so poor “he was only able to count fingers at a distance of 3 ft.” The laser beam had caused subretinal hemorrhage in his left macula and several tiny round scars in the pigment epithelium of the foveolar region of his right eye.

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The teen has been fortunate. His vision though still impaired has improved to near normal: “20/32 in the right eye and to 20/25 with a remaining scar just beside the center of the fovea in the left eye.”

A laser pointer is a small laser used to highlight something of interest by projecting an intense spot of light onto it. Pointers come in different strengths. As many are not clearly labeled, it is best to consider all of them potentially hazardous.

Laser Pointer Safety Tips

  1. Never shine a laser pointer at anyone. Laser pointers are designed to illustrate inanimate objects.
  2. Do not allow minors to use a pointer unsupervised. Laser pointers are not toys.
  3. Do not point a laser pointer at mirror-like surfaces. A reflected beam can act like a direct beam on the eye.
  4. Do not purchase a laser pointer if it does not have a caution or danger sticker on it identifying its class. Report suspicious devices to the FDA.

Sources
Retinal Injuries from a Handheld Laser Pointer; Stefan Wyrsch, M.D., Philipp B. Baenninger, M.D., Martin K. Schmid, M.D.; N Engl J Med 2010; 363:1089-1091
Laser Institute of America

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