Federal regulators are warning parents to be cautious with children’s toys that are fitted with lasers, indicating that they may be much more dangerous than most parents would think.
On August 7, the FDA issued draft guidance on the safety of toy laser products. The agency notes the lasers may cause serious eye injuries and may also result in blindness, not just for individuals using the laser, but also posing a risk for anyone within range of the beam.
Lasers create highly concentrated beams of electromagnetic radiation. They are often used in music players, printers and eye-surgery tools. The FDA regulates radiation emitting products, including lasers. The electronic radiation in a toy lasers are usually much lower than in other products, but may still be harmful, the FDA warns.
A laser pointed at a person’s eye will not immediately cause pain or sensation to the eye, but over the long term the laser can cause deterioration in the eye. The FDA warns that many people who have been injured by lasers will not notice the injury for several days, sometimes weeks, but the damage may still be permanent.
Dan Hewett, Health Promotion Officer at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health warns consumers to be wary of certain toys, such as toy guns with lasers mounted to them, spinning tops which project laser beams, handheld lasers such as “lightsaber” type toys and lasers intended for entertainment which create optical effects in an open room. All of these toys may pose a risk to children and other users.
“A beam shone directly into a person’s eye can injure it in an instant, especially if the laser is a powerful one.” said Hewett in an FDA consumer update on laser toys.
The FDA sets radiation safety standards which manufacturers must meet for laser emitting products, including toys which have lasers. The FDA is particularly interested in the safety of lasers since children are often the ones injured by toys that emit laser beams.
Advertisers often promote their laser products as toys for children, which often lead parents and children to believe that the item is completely safe, posing no risk of harm for a child, according to the agency. The FDA believes that within the last 10 years, the power of many laser pointers has increased 10-fold or more, making the toys that much more dangerous for children.
Hewitt warns consumers can use certain precautions to avoid injuries, like not shining lasers in another person’s eyes, not aiming lasers at any reflective surfaces and avoiding startling a person with a laser who is engaged in another activity, such as driving.
The FDA also advises consumers to check the label and packaging of a laser for a statement reading that it complies with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations) Subchapter J.
The guidance, once approved, is not actual regulation, but represents the FDA’s current thinking on toy laser products. The agency is accepting public comment for the next 90 days. Comments can be submitted electronically to http://wwww.regulations.gov or by sending written comments to the Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.