You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid, FDA Christmas Warning

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
child lazer toy

It's not just BB guns and your child shooting his (or a sibling’s) eye out this Christmas that you need to worry about. According to the FDA, laser toys can be just as dangerous to your child’s vision.

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In a recent FDA Consumer Health release, those laser beam emitting toys that look so cool to children (and some adults) can lead to serious eye injuries and even blindness to both the shooter and bystanders not in the direct line of fire.

According to the FDA, “A beam shone directly into a person’s eye can injure it in an instant, especially if the laser is a powerful one,” explains Dan Hewett, health promotion officer at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. However, indirect exposure such as reflecting off of a smooth surface can be harmful too.

In addition, what makes laser light so insidious is that eye injuries caused by laser light usually don't hurt, but can result in slow deterioration of a person’s vision that may go unnoticed, for days and even weeks.

“Ultimately, the damage could be permanent,” says Hewett.

So, what kinds of laser toys is the FDA concerned about? Examples include not just lasers mounted on toy guns, but others such as:

• spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin
• hand-held lasers used during play as “light sabers”
• lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room

But more importantly than worrying about identifying and naming a particular toy type, consumers need to understand the relative safety of laser containing devices. Basically, laser toys should be labeled no higher than Class 1 for their laser element. Rather than a Class rating, the labeling may instead state the laser’s power rating in milliwatts (mW). A 5-milliwatt laser is considered unsafe in any toy and falls within the same rating as some laser pointers used for business presentations.

While “milliwatts”—a thousandth of a watt—measure seems insignificant in comparison to say a 10-40 Watt bulb used in a child’s night light, there are differences between the two light types:

• Light bulb wattage measures the power it uses and it only converts about 10 percent of that power into light. In a laser, however, the power is a measure of the light power output.

• Light bulbs spread out that power in all directions, whereas a laser light is finely focused and concentrates all of its power on one small point. Furthermore, the intensity of light from a bulb decreases dramatically over a short distance, whereas a laser maintains its intensity much further.

• Light bulb light consists of a wide range of frequencies, most of which are not harmful; whereas a laser is one frequency of a particular wavelength, some of which are more harmful than others to the eyes.

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According to the release, to help protect consumers the FDA recommends that the levels of radiation and light not exceed the limits for Class 1, the lowest level in regulated products as defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). However, this does not mean that parents should be necessarily alarmed if they have a higher than Class 1 laser pointer in the house that may be used for work or by a responsible child during a school presentation. But bear in mind that…“strong laser pointers can flash blind a pilot at a distance of more than 10 km, and at shorter distances cause permanent visual dysfunction or even blindness,” according to one study..

The FDA points out that laser products are generally safe when they follow the legal limits and are used as directed. But lasers can cause harm if not used properly and therefore devices such as pointers should be kept out of little hands.

Laser Safety Tips for Parents

1. Never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone, including animals. The light energy from a laser aimed into the eye can be hazardous, perhaps even more than staring directly into the sun.

2. Do not aim a laser at any vehicle, aircraft, or shiny surface. Remember that the startling effect of a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents when aimed at a driver in a car, for instance, or otherwise negatively affect someone doing another activity (such as playing sports).

3. Look for an FDA-recommended IEC Class I label on children’s toy lasers. The label says “Class 1 Laser Product,” which would clearly communicate that the product is of low risk and not in a higher emission level laser class.

4. Do not buy laser pointers for children, or allow children to use them. These products are not toys.

5. Do not buy or use any laser that emits more than 5mW power, or that does not have the power printed on the labeling.

6. Immediately consult a health care professional if you or your child suspects or experiences any eye injury.

Here’s a warning about hearing loss attributed to some Christmas toys.

Reference: “Laser Toys: How to Keep Kids Safe” November 24, 2017, FDA Consumer Health Information

Image Source: FDA video YouTube screen capture

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