Are Laser Pointers Dangerous?

August marks Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, an awareness month that encourages people to pay special attention to childhood eye illness and injury.

This year, Bonner Eye Clinic will discuss the dangers associated using a laser pointer as a toy. While laser pointers may seem harmless enough, you should think twice before letting your child use one as a makeshift lightsaber.

Can laser pointers blind you?

They sure can. This past June, doctors reported that a 9-year-old boy in Greece permanently injured his left eye after repeatedly gazing into a green laser pointer. Upon examination, doctors found that the laser burned a hole in his macula, part of the retina responsible for central, high-resolution color vision. He is unlikely to recover his full vision.

How to tell if a laser pointer is dangerous

Fortunately, not all laser pointers are dangerous. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to tell which ones are safe. Although regulations set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require most laser products to be labeled with an appropriate warning, sometimes this information is missing or insufficient.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, lasers with an output greater than five milliwatts can result in severe retinal or skin damage within moments.

To determine if your laser pointer is safe, the FDA suggests the following guidelines:

  • Check the batteries. Button batteries mean that the laser pointer’s output is probably less than five milliwatts. AA, AAA, and lithium batteries mean that the laser pointer’s output is probably five milliwatts or greater.
  • Laser pointers sold with battery chargers often have an output that is greater than five milliwatts.
  • If your laser has a removable cap that spreads the beam into a pattern, the laser’s output may exceed five milliwatts if that cap is removed.
  • Watch out for the following keywords when viewing marketing materials: powerful, bright, ultra, super, military grade, strong, balloon pop, burn, burning, adjustable focus, lithium battery, and lithium powered.

Eye injuries associated with lasers don’t usually hurt. Because of this, it’s better to be safe than sorry and keep all laser pointers away from your eyes.

How do you safely use a laser pointer?

The FDA has the following recommendations:

  • Do not aim or shine a laser directly at a human or animal.
  • Never aim a laser at a vehicle or aircraft. People can be killed or seriously injured because of this.
  • Do not let children play with laser pointers.
  • Only purchase a toy laser if it’s labeled as a “Class 1 Laser Product.” This means that the laser is low risk and safe for children.
  • Do not purchase a laser with an output that exceeds five milliwatts.
  • Immediately contact a doctor if you suspect an eye injury has occurred.

Do you have any other questions about how to keep your children’s eyes safe? Contact Bonner Eye Clinic today and we’ll be happy to help.

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