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Laser Pointer Injuries More Than Meets The Eye?

September 29, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The use of laser pointers are widespread, but there are serious concerns about the hazards. Recently the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the retinal damage a 15-year-old Swiss boy received when trying to create a "laser show" while playing in front of a mirror. The teen noticed immediate blurred vision in both of his eyes and suffered retinal injuries.

Dr. Erin Stahl with Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City says the teen's vision did eventually improve, but he never regained 20-20 vision. She says part of the problem is not all laser pointers are labeled correctly.

"For every laser pointer there's a label that has a warning on it no matter what power level it has and to make sure it's less than 5 milliwatts in power. That's what's determined by the U.S. that can be sold here."

While laser pointers sold in the United States are low-powered, Stahl notes high-powered ones can easily be purchased online from other countries.

She adds another part of the problem is the research and case studies vary in what they claim is a safe level of direct exposure to the eyes.

"So there's really no distinct number of seconds or minutes that you can be exposed to these that's safe that's been established. I think it's kind of been a little bit up in the air about how dangerous these are at the low level."

Stahl emphasizes parents also need to be careful of toys that have a "laser" type component to it. She says the same rules should apply -- never shine it directly into someone's eyes.

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO