Doctors see eye hazard in powerful laser pointers

Sep 09, 2010 By MALCOLM RITTER , AP Science Writer

(AP) -- A 15-year-old boy damaged his eyes while playing with a laser pointer he'd bought over the Internet, say doctors who warn that dangerously high-powered versions are easily available online.

One eye expert called it "a legitimate public health menace."

The boy's case is reported in Thursday's issue of the by doctors who treated him at the Lucerne Cantonal Hospital in Switzerland.

It follows two reports in June of similar accidents. British doctors said a teenager damaged his eyes with a high-powered , and a British physician said his vision was affected for several months after he was zapped by his 7-year-old son.

Laser pointers are devices that resemble pens and emit a narrow beam of laser light. They're used by lecturers to point out information during presentations, for example.

Laser pointers sold in the United States are subject to a power limit imposed by the - one that won't cause instant eye damage, although harm is still possible with prolonged exposure.

Laser pointers that exceed the FDA restriction can be found online.

The Swiss boy's laser was 30 times more powerful than the FDA limit. He bought it to pop balloons and burn holes in paper and his sister's sneakers, his doctors said.

One day, he was playing with the pointer in front of a mirror to create a light show, and he accidentally zapped his eyes with its green light several times.

Although he noticed right away that his vision was blurry, he was afraid of telling his parents. So it wasn't until two weeks later, when he couldn't hide the problem any longer, that he saw a doctor.

The vision in his left eye was so poor that he couldn't count fingers more than three feet away. His other eye also showed severe vision loss, one that would make it difficult to read a newspaper, Dr. Martin Schmid, one of the doctors reporting the case, said in an e-mail.

Examination showed a hemorrhage in his left eye and several tiny scars in his right eye.

After four months, his vision showed some improvement but remained moderately impaired, Schmid said.

High-power devices like the one the teen bought are advertised as laser pointers and look just like low-powered versions, Schmid and colleagues wrote.

"I'm stunned that a kid can get access to ... this type of power," commented Dr. George A. Williams, chair of ophthalmology at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Royal Oak, Mich.

"This is a legitimate public health menace," said Williams, a spokesman for the American Academy of Opthalmology. "Parents should be aware there are inappropriate lasers available over the Internet."

The FDA has warned in the past that it has found laser pointers and toys that exceed the output limit of 5 milliwatts - five-thousandths of a watt. It rarely collects reports of eye-damage incidents like the case in Switzerland, said FDA health promotion officer Dan Hewett, so it's not clear how often they happen.

His agency recommends that consumers make sure laser pointer labels carry a designation of Class IIIa or lower, along with a statement of compliance with Chapter 21 CFR. Hewett suggests consumers should look on the label to make sure the power output is no more than 5 milliwatts, or 5 mW.

But he stressed that even a laser product that meets those conditions can cause if a person stares into the beam long enough.

"Just because it says 5 mW and Class IIIa, FDA is not saying you can grab this laser and stare at it," he said.

Explore further: Law requiring release of health information upheld

More information: New England Journal: http://www.nejm.org
FDA on laser products: http://bit.ly/CurlH

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

FDA approves new LASIK device

Jul 12, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first LASIK device designed to treat one eye for distance vision and the other eye for close vision.

Laser treatment not effective for AMD

Nov 01, 2006

A U.S. study suggests low-intensity laser treatment for age-related macular degeneration is ineffective in slowing or preventing vision loss.

FDA to study negative effects of Lasik eye surgery

Oct 16, 2009

(AP) -- The Food and Drug Administration announced plans Thursday to study the scope of problems connected with laser eye-correcting surgery, which include blurred vision and dry eyes.

Recommended for you

Law requiring release of health information upheld

58 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—A state law that requires plaintiffs to release relevant protected health information before proceeding with allegations of medical liability has been upheld by a federal appeals court, according ...

Research highlights extent and effects of school violence

1 hour ago

Six percent of U.S. children and youth missed a day of school over the course of a year because they were the victim of violence or abuse at school. This was a major finding of a study on school safety by University of New ...

Planning for the move from children's to adult palliative care

4 hours ago

The differences between children's and adult palliative care services are too wide for young people with life-limiting conditions to negotiate, according to research by Bangor University. Commenting on the findings, the researchers ...

User comments : 0