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Laser toys, pointers pose risks for children’s eyes

September 4, 2013
Retinal injuries include through-and-through or partial thermal retinal holes (as indicated by the arrow). These retinal holes create permanent blind spots, most often in the foveal region, a region responsible for reading and fine-detailed viewing.

Retinal injuries include through-and-through or partial thermal retinal holes (as indicated by the arrow). These retinal holes create permanent blind spots, most often in the foveal region, a region responsible for reading and fine-detailed viewing.

Increasingly powerful laser toys and pointers represent a growing eye safety threat to children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued “Laser Toys: Not Always Child’s Play” (http://tinyurl.com/FDAlaser) as part of an effort to inform parents of the potential eye injury risks associated with lasers.

“The fact that lasers can be dangerous may not be evident, particularly to the children who use them as toys, or to the adults who supervise them,” the FDA Consumer Update notes.

The FDA is asking optometrists and other health care professionals to help educate parents and children about the eye safety risks associated with lasers. The AOA is preparing to submit input to the FDA on the proposed new laser industry guidance.

Michael Duenas, O.D., AOA public health officer, stresses the light amplification of a laser, even one of minimal strength, can cause a power density at the retina that may result in permanent injury and blindness.

“When operated unsafely, or without certain controls, the highly concentrated light from lasers—even those in toys—can be dangerous, causing serious eye injuries and even blindness,” said Cam Boyce of the FDA Office of Communications.

The FDA regulates radiation-emitting electronic products, including lasers, and sets radiation-safety standards that manufacturers must meet. That includes all laser products marketed as toys.

Although the FDA requires only relatively low energy laser be used in toys, the light energy from such a laser aimed into the eye can be hazardous.

Examples of popular laser toys include:

  • Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”
  • Tops that project laser beams while they spin
  • Hand-held lasers used during play as Star Wars-style “lightsabers”
  • Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.

In addition, children may purchase laser pointers, intended for use by adults, for amusement. Over the last 10 years, many laser pointers have increased in power 10-fold and more, according to the FDA.

Retinal injuries include through-and-through or partial thermal retinal holes, (as indicated by arrow in photo “a” above). These retinal holes create permanent blind spots, most often in the foveal region, a region responsible for reading and fine-detailed viewing.

“Because one eye may be damaged at a time, a unilateral eye injury may go unnoticed until the child receives a comprehensive eye examination or has trouble viewing a 3-D movie, which necessitates the fine focus of both eyes together,” said Dr. Duenas. “This damage is permanent, and a disability of no longer being able to see in 3-D has profound implications both in the classroom, on the field and in the workplace.”

Consumer safety tips

  • Never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone, including animals.
  • Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface.
  • Remember the startling effect of a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents when aimed at a driver or can otherwise negatively affect someone engaged in other activities (such as playing sports).
  • Look for a statement on toys and pointers indicating compliance with federal regulations.

The FDA offers laser safety information that optometrists can download for patient use (http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/DeviceRegulationandGuidance/GuidanceDocuments/ucm363581.htm).

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