Laser pointers threaten to injure kids’ eyes

By Tom Nordlie • Published: December 13th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Need a holiday gift idea?

Here’s one: Don’t buy laser pointers for children.

These devices aren’t toys, though they’re sometimes marketed that way.

Some include attachments that cause the laser light to produce geometric patterns, words or pictures.

It might sound like harmless fun.

But there’s a new generation of handheld lasers so powerful that they’re basically cutting torches.

And these dangerous devices are gaining popularity with youngsters.

Doctors at a Swiss hospital wrote a brief report that demonstrates how these lasers can cause eye injuries. It was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The doctors described the case of a teenage boy who bought a handheld laser and accidentally bounced the beam off a mirror and into his eyes.

The exposure caused burns to both his retinas. That’s the light-sensitive tissue that lines the interior of the eyeball.

The damage blurred his vision. The boy’s condition improved over time but it’s unknown if he’ll make a full recovery.

The laser in that case produced one-hundred fifty milliwatts of power.

It could burst balloons and burn holes in paper.

The typical classroom laser pointer produces five milliwatts.

Handheld lasers ranging from fifty to one-thousand milliwatts are sold on the Internet, many of them costing less than a hundred dollars.

There are also plenty of videos online that demonstrate how these lasers can ignite matches and such.

More disturbing, there are do-it-yourself materials that show how to modify ordinary laser pointers and make them powerful enough to burn things.

So even the weakest handheld lasers aren’t completely safe around inquisitive kids.

We hate to sound like Scrooge, but many experts say this is one present no child needs to get.