Laser toys and pointers pose risks for children’s eyes

They might seem like fun and games, but laser toys and powerful pointers represent a growing threat to children's eyes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Because advertisers promote these lasers as toys, parents and kids may assume they're safe.

The FDA issued a consumer alert, "Laser Toys: Not Always Child's Play," Aug. 6 as part of a new effort to inform parents of the eye injury risks these toys and pointers pose. 

Michael Duenas, O.D., AOA chief public health officer, stresses that 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. 

Possible retinal injuries

Regulated toys include laser-sights on toy guns, lasers that create visual effects and hand-held lasers that mimic Star Wars' lightsabers. Because advertisers promote these lasers as toys, parents and kids may assume they're safe to use, says Dan Hewett, health promotion officer at FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. 

However, even the low-energy lasers in toys can be hazardous when aimed into the eyes. And increasingly powerful laser pointers--intended for adults but often used by children--pose a threat, too. Possible retinal injuries include through-and-through or partial thermal retinal holes (as indicated by the arrow in the photo below). These retinal holes create permanent blind spots, most often in the foveal region, which is responsible for reading and fine-detailed viewing.

retinal injury

"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 3D movie, which necessitates the fine focus of both eyes together," Duenas says. "This damage is permanent and a disability of no longer being able to see in 3D has profound implications both in the classroom, on the field and in the workplace." 

Tips for safe use

Because of the dangers, the FDA is asking optometrists and other health care professionals to educate parents and children about safety. The AOA also is preparing to submit input to the FDA on its proposed new guidance for the laser industry.

The FDA offers the following safety tips:

  • Never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone.
  • Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface.
  • Remember that a bright beam of light can startle a driver and cause serious accidents. It also can cause accidents for someone playing sports or engaged in other activities.
  • Look for a statement on toy and pointer labeling that indicates compliance with federal regulations (21 CFR, Subchapter J).

The FDA offers laser safety information that optometrists can download and print, post or display in the office, and e-mail or hand out to parents.

August 8, 2013

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