They point bright, colorful lines across the air and appeal to children, adults and even your pet cat. However, handheld laser pointers should be kept out of children’s hands because their high light power can cause injury.
Laser pointers used to be weak in power and cost hundreds of dollars. Now, anyone can buy a low-cost laser pointer that can give off hot, blinding light.
This light causes eye damage when it creates a tiny burn on the eye. Victims suffer symptoms such as blindness, seeing spots or large floating objects at the center of vision, headache and sensitivity to light. The damage to vision sometimes takes days or weeks to notice. High-powered laser pointers also can irritate or burn the skin, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
To reduce the chance of injury, lasers sold in the U.S. cannot emit more than 5 milliwatts (mW) of visible light power. Even lasers with less than 5mW have caused short-term blindness when aimed directly into the eye, according to the FDA. Check the label to see how much light a laser emits.
Lasers also should not be reflected off mirrors or metal surfaces. Recently, a bus driver in Germany suffered permanent eye damage after a child aimed a laser into the bus mirror. The laser was part of a toy.
Parents should not buy laser pointers for children. They also should check children’s toys that have lasers, such as those mounted on toy guns, spinning tops, light sabers and optical effect lights, to ensure they are labeled with a statement that they comply with the Code of Federal Regulations “21 CFR Subchapter J.”
Lasers that may be strong enough to cause harm and should be kept away from children include those that:
- run on AA or AAA batteries or are flashlight sized;
- come with battery chargers;
- have a removable cap that spreads the beam into a pattern (without the cap they may emit very strong light power); or
- are labeled as “powerful,” “bright” “military grade,” “balloon pop,” “burn,” “lithium” or “adjustable focus.”
If your child has been injured by a laser, contact your pediatrician for guidance. Report adverse events related to these products to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program at www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report.