red laser light

Called on account of lasers?

Football fans know all too well how lightning can halt outdoor action this time of year, yet recently there has been another form of high-energy light forcing officials to call games.

Laser pointers have stolen air time in highlight reels this football season as two separate incidents in recent weeks have spurred discussions not only about unsportsmanlike conduct, but also about player safety.

On Oct. 11, officials were forced to pause a college game between the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and Wyoming Cowboys after complaints that players on the field were being targeted by a laser pointer in the stands. Although a perpetrator hasn't been identified, that wasn't the case in a similar incident only a week earlier.

A Detroit Lions fan reportedly has been fined and banned indefinitely after allegedly shining a laser pointer in the eyes of Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton and holder Colton Schmidt during a game on Oct. 5.

In both instances, team officials have cited the severity and health risks associated with striking players—especially in the eyes—underscoring the need for a frank discussion with the public about commercially available lasers, considering it's a tale that repeats itself with much frequency.

No fun and games
Common presentation laser pointers have been around for years, but recently, laser devices with much higher output and wavelength have become obtainable via the Internet.

Despite a 5 milliwatt (mW) limit imposed on pointers by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), consumers can purchase devices many times that output. Namely, the intensity of higher-output lasers can travel hundreds of yards without diffusing, causing the potential for ocular harm if used recklessly. And it's becoming a hazard in more ways than on the football field.

Brief exposure to any laser pointer can cause temporary vision impairment and discomfort, yet prolonged exposure—and even brief exposure at levels over 50mW—can cause retinal damage.

"Even just getting 'lased' for a second or two could produce damage if you cannot avoid the beam, and that's where the problem comes in," says Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., chair of the AOA Commission on Ophthalmic Standards. "We have a standard that tells us what the maximum power should be, but several manufacturers, especially overseas, ignore these standards and market lasers as being brighter and going farther than typical products."

Click here to read more about how the AOA weighed in on FDA proposed guidance for laser toys, and find recommendations for the use of laser pointers here.

October 15, 2014

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