Laser Pointer Eye Injury Risk Posed By Many Overpowered, Over-the-Counter Products

Many inexpensive laser pointers that are widely available at stores nationwide may be overpowered and emit light beyond the legal limit, according to the findings of a new study that highlights the eye injury risk posed by those laser pointers. 

Researchers from the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, tested a number of lasers and found that most were 51 to 127 times over the 1 milliwatt government safety limit. Researchers say at that upper level the beam can cause catastrophic retinal damage.

The findings were presented at the IEEE Engineers in Medicine and Biology Society conference in Orlando, Florida on August 18. The study is considered preliminary until  published in a peer reviewed journal.

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Last year, the FDA issued a safety warning to consumers about the potential hazards of laser pointers. The FDA restricts the visible light power of laser pointers to 5 milliwatts, but the warning said even at 5 milliwatts the laser can cause flash blindness and irritation. On the more severe end, lasers can cause burns and even permanent blindness.

Researchers in this latest study tested four models of green pointers and four models of red pointers. All four green models tested failed Australian standards. Three of the four red models tested were within safety limits.

Green lasers are considered the most dangerous.

The normal response to visible light is to blink and turn away, a reaction that allows the eye to avoid permanent damage from lasers. Green lasers produce much more infrared radiation. They also do not trigger the natural aversion and blink response.

Green lasers also produce a much more focused light than red lasers, creating a higher risk of damaging the retina. This is especially true among lasers that produce light above the safety limit.

Among those studied, one green laser pointer produced light 127 times over the Australian legal limit.

The findings have researchers calling on the Australian government to consider banning green lasers. Study authors are also recommending authorities implement strict testing and quality control standards for laser pointers. The findings may prompt U.S. officials to follow suit and ban the popular products.

The FDA issued another warning in 2010 about the safety risks of laser pointers, including burns and eye injuries. The warning indicated more laser pointers are becoming available and affordable via the internet and many are exceeding the safety output, with as much as 1,000 milliwatts of power. As such, the FDA and the Federal Aviation Administration are seeing an increase in personal injuries.

Laser pointers can be bought by anyone and are sold over-the-counter and online with no restrictions.

Researchers also warn imported laser pointers are poorly made. Manufactures may often skip necessary safety measures, such as installing infrared blocking filters.


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