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US: Study examines four laser-caused eye injuries in children, at one medical practice

A study in the October 2016 journal Pediatrics described four cases where children had laser-related eye injuries, all being presented at a single clinical practice within a two-year period. The authors call this “[t]o our knowledge, the largest reported case series of laser pointer-induced retinal damage in the pediatric population in a developed country to date.”

In a separate interview, one of the authors, ophthalmologist Dr. David Almeida, said these cases are “happening more frequently…. It was previously thought this was a one-in-a-million event. It's still probably a rare-to-uncommon reaction, but it's not a never reaction.”

All four children had foveal laser burns. Three of the children had potentially permanent vision loss. These are the cases:

  • A 12-year-old boy looked into a green laser pointer for about a minute. He had decreased central vision in both eyes, with 20/20 vision in one eye and 20/30 in another. His vision and macular condition was found to be unchanged after 7 months.
  • A 16-year-old teenager similarly had central vision loss in both eyes, after playing with a green laser pointer for about 30 seconds. He was first examined three days after the exposure, scars and atrophy were found on the retina. Two weeks later his vision has worsened. Visual acuity was 20/40 in both eyes with no improvement.
  • A 9-year-old boy looked at the reflection of a green laser pointer in a mirror (essentially the same as a direct beam) for an unknown length of time. His vision was 20/50. He was treated with 1% prednisolone three times a day for two weeks. His vision improved to 20/30, but he still had “persistent abnormalities of the photoreceptors.”
  • A 12-year-old boy looked into a red laser pointer for about 15 seconds. He had central vision loss, and 20/70 vision. He was given an injection of bevacizumab, which gradually improved his vision and symptoms. After 1 year, he had 20/20 vision.

The authors noted that laser pointers are more available, that users may not be aware of the dangers, and that some users may use pointers improperly.

Visible lasers less than 5 milliwatts (the U.S. legal standard for a laser to be marketed as a “pointer”) are considered to be generally safe due to the bright light reflex, which causes a person to blink and turn away from a bright light. So one question is why these children were injured by laser pointers.

One reason, according to the authors, is that “children increase their chance to retinal injury by staring at the laser beam without blinking or averting the eye for a prolonged duration.”

Another possible cause is that “the labeling of the power output of a laser point may be different from the device’s actual specifications.” They referred to a study of 122 laser pointers, where 90% of green pointers and 44% of red pointers were above the 5 milliwatt U.S. legal limit.

The study said that treatment options were “limited and also controversial.” Use of corticosteroids has shown “mixed results.” It may be enough to observe a patient over time, since many injuries will stabilize.

The authors recommended that laser pointer hazards “should be communicated to health professionals, school teachers, and guardians in an attempt to raise the public awareness of this emerging public health issue. Unsupervised use of these laser pointer devices among children should be discouraged, and there is a need for legislation to limit these devices in the pediatric population.”

From Retinal Injury Secondary to Laser Pointers in Pediatric Patients, Kunyong Xu, Eric K. Chin, Polly A. Quiram, John B. Davies, D. Wilkin Parke III and David R.P. Almeida, in Pediatrics; originally published online September 1, 2016; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1188. A general interest article summarizing the study, with additional comments from Almeida and another ophthalmologist, is at HealthDay.com. The abstract of the Pediatrics article is below; click the “Read More…” link.


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UK: Woman sentenced for illegal laser imports that injured boy's eyesight

A 47-year-old Surrey woman was sentenced in mid-July 2016 to 240 hours of community service for illegally importing 300 over-powered lasers. One of the lasers was sold for £6 (USD $9) at a school Christmas fair and subsequently caused an eye injury to a seven-year-old boy.

Lynsey McClure had imported the lasers from a Chinese supplier who said they complied with U.K. regulations limiting laser pens to 1 milliwatt of power. Her brother, who was not charged, sold them in a stall during a school fair in December 2015. The headmaster asked her brother to stop selling the laser, but he continued.

Lynsey McClure laser
Lynsey McClure


Jonathan Marshall, 7, purchased one of the lasers. It was later found to have an output of 127 milliwatts.

His mother said Jonathan was playing with it at home when the beam went into his eye for “a fraction of a second.” He has a retinal burn which interferes with his vision.

McClure pleaded guilty to nine product safety and consumer protection violations, including selling an unsafe product and failing to disclose the power of the laser.

The case appears to be the first where a person has been prosecuted for an illegal laser sale that led to an injury.

From the Sunday Times (subscription required to read the entire article) and the JC.com

Australia: Teen injures both eyes by looking into laser pointer

A 14-year-old Australian permanently damaged his retinas by deliberately shining a laser pointer into his eyes “for a very brief period of time”, according to the optometrist who examined the teen.

From a November 5 news account, it appears the injury occurred on Friday October 30 2015. The boy saw a general practitioner the following Monday, who then referred the teen to Ben Armitage, a Hobart (Tasmania) optometrist.

Armitage said the boy did not feel pain during the exposure, but he immediately lost visual acuity. “His vision is down to about 25 percent of what we call 20/20 vision and unfortunately at this stage it’s unlikely that vision is ever going to recover.”

Retina laser damage 2015-11-5 Australia
Retina of one of the teen’s two eyes that were damaged by a self-inflicted laser pointer exposure. The injury occurred near the macula. At the center of the macula is the fovea, responsible for sharp central vision.


The damaged area is still swollen; Armitage hopes that some vision may be restored when the swelling recedes.

An Optometry Tasmania spokesperson warned parents not to allow children unsupervised access to laser pointers “and, in fact, better off trying to warn them off because we’ve just seen in this particular case where the future lifestyle of this young person has been seriously affected.”

From ABC (Australia) News

Italy: Prosecutor investigating manslaughter charges in three cases of eye damage to children from laser pointers

In three separate cases, children in the area of Bologna have suffered eye damage caused by laser pointers.

The cases were reported in mid-September 2015 by the St. Ursula Ophthalmology Hospital in Bologna. One of the children was 10; the other two were 13.

The injuries were caused by laser pointers bought by their parents (in two cases) or grandmother (in the third case) in markets in Florence or Bologna. One child had a slight loss of vision, another had significant loss in both eyes, and a third has almost lost his sight and is legally blind.

A public prosecutor, Valter Giovannini, has opened an investigation for aggravated manslaughter against unknown assailants. This seems to indicate that in all three cases, the laser pointer bought by or for the children was used against them by another person.

As a result of the report, Carabinieri NAS (Nuclei Antisofisticazioni e Sanità or “Anti Fraud Squad”), a special police force operating under the Italian ministry of health, seized fifteen illegally-sold laser pointers.

The hospital warned the public not to purchase green laser pointers sold “on the street, in the stalls and fairs.” A spokesperson said higher-powered pointers such as those aimed at players in stadiums were to be avoided. Professional laser pointers used in lectures should not be a problem.

From Corriere di Bologna. Thanks to Alberto Kellner Ongaro for bringing this to our attention.

Austria: Pre-teen has "massive" damage from misusing laser pointer

From Agence-France Presse:

A 12-year-old Austrian boy has suffered "massive and lasting" damage to his eyes after playing with a laser pointer, with his vision reduced by 60 percent, doctors said.

"We think that he was playing with a mirror and that the rays were reflected," said Yosuf El-Shabrawi, chief doctor at the Klagenfurt am Wörthersee clinic in Carinthia, southern Austria.

"His injuries cannot be treated. We can only hope that the worst of the injuries heal themselves and that his condition improves," El-Shabrawi said in a statement on Tuesday.

The boy's father bought the laser pointer on the Internet where it was advertised as a toy for playing with cats.

After a week the boy, named as Lukas, complained of a constant black mark in his field of vision.

The laser pointer in question was labelled as "Class 2" with an output under the European Union legal limit, but it lacked a so-called EN standardisation certificate, El-Shabrawi said.

AFP story on The Local, the Rakyat Post, iAfrica.com, and other news sources

Iceland: Teen injures both eyes playing with 90 mW laser pointer

A 13-year-old Icelandic boy was “seriously” injured in both eyes after playing with a 90 milliwatt laser pointer purchased outside the country. He was said to have lost central vision in one eye.

The teen was treated at Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik. The head physician at the Department of Ophthalmology says the hospital has never seen such a severe case of laser pointer injury.
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UK: Journal report of five children injured by laser pens

A report published online January 17 2014 in Eye, the journal of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, discusses five case reports of children injured by laser pointers and “toys” in the Sheffield, South Yorkshire area.

According to the abstract, “Clinically, three children had an acute vitelliform-like maculopathy which resolved to leave sub-foveal retinal pigment epithelium changes with reduced vision. One case was complicated by a choroidal neovascular membrane.”

  • Case 1 was of a nine-year-old boy who on December 22 2013 was tested with normal vision of 6/5 (U.S. 20/17 -- better than 20/20) but on December 26 complained of vision loss and was found to have 6/12 (20/40) in the left eye and 6/15 (20/50) in the right eye. The family said he was given a laser pointer as a “toy” and had been playing with it on Christmas Day. The child denied looking directly into the laser beam. The family had three laser pens: a 57 mW blue 405nm, a 42 mW green 532 nm, and a 72 mW red 650nm. All exceeded the British Standard of 5 mW for a Class 3R laser. The boy was prescribed steroids. Nine months after the initial complaint, the best corrected vision was 6/9.5 (20/32), and optical coherence tomography showed persistent outer retinal layer disruption at the fovea. [The boy was later identified in press coverage as William Jackson, from Wadsley. Details are at The Star.]

  • Case 2 was of an 11-year-old boy. He had decreased vision in both eyes of 6/7.5 (20/25). Eight weeks later he had sub-foveal retinal pigment epithelium changes. His vision was 6/12 (20/40) in the right eye and 6/15 (20/50) in the left eye. He said that a friend had aimed a laser into both of his eyes before the decreased vision occurred. The doctors were not able to examine what they characterized as the laser “toy”.

  • Case 3 was of a 15-year-old girl. She aimed a laser pen into both eyes for 30 seconds. The next day she had scotomas (vision loss or spots) in both eyes. Her right eye was 6/7.5 (20/25) and her left eye was 6/6 (20/20). Upon examination, a vitelliform-like maculopathy (abnormality in the macula or central vision area) was seen. She did not return for follow-up visits.

  • Case 4 was of an 8-year-old boy who had reduced vision of 6/12 (20/40) in his right eye, and normal vision of 6/6 (20/20) in his left eye. The right fovea was seen to have retinal pigment epithelial changes “consistent with laser burns.” The boy admitted he had played with a laser pointer a few months before, but said he did not point it directly at his eye.

  • Case 5 was of a 13-year-old boy who had noticed declining vision in his right eye. It was found to be 6/36 (20/120); his left eye was 6/6 (20/20). He admitted aiming a laser pointer into his right eye. A fibrosed choroidal neovascular membrane was found at the right fovea.

The authors noted that “The retinal damage reported following such injuries is variable. This is due to variety of laser powers and wavelengths as well as ocular factors such as fundal pigmentation, blink responses, pupil size, and proximity of the laser burn to the fovea. Assessment of alleged laser eye injury requires accurate history and examination. Treatment for such laser retinal injuries is uncertain. Oral corticosteroids are sometimes administered.”

The authors stated that some laser devices are marketed as “toys”. They said they are aware of other children in the U.K. with retinal injuries from imported laser pointers. They conclude: “We suggest that children should not be given laser pointers as toys.”

From “‘Toy’ laser macular burns in children”, in Eye (2014) 1-4, by N. Raoof, TKJ Chan, NK Rogers, W Abdullah, I Haq, SP Kelly and FM Quhill. A downloadable PDF version is here. A story from the Bolton News gives some additional comments from author SP Kelly.

Spain: Woman permanently injured by laser pointer bought in Shanghai

A 37-year-old Spanish woman lost 60% of her vision in one eye after playing with a laser pointer, according to an ophthalmologist from the Barraquer Clinic in Barcelona. She did not realize she had been injured until her vision deteriorated the next day.

The injury to her fovea is permanent. In a machine-translated statement, she said “All fuzzy horrors bothers me the light. I sense what I see on the screen, but I can not really read and, of course, I dare not drive.”

The clinic says this is the first case it has seen of permanent retinal damage by a laser pointer.

The woman’s husband purchased three lasers in a tourist area of Shanghai, for €30 (USD $40). One emitted a red beam, one a blue beam and one a green beam. The spower was said to be between 500 and 6,000 milliwatts (1/2 to 6 watts). There were no user warnings on the laser.

The clinic believes the laser was not aimed directly in the eye, but was probably reflected off an object. While the article and machine-translation are not clear, it is possible that one or more of the lasers used a diffraction grating to create multiple “stars”. The article discusses lasers that “allow decorative figures with the laser on the surface” and then quotes the victim as saying “Ours were beautiful: creating colorful stars in the sky.”

From LaVanguardia.com. Original article in Spanish here; Google machine translation into English here. Thanks to Jose-Maria Silvestre on the LinkedIn Laser Safety Professionals group for bringing this to our attention.

Japan: Teen injured by LED pen "toy" held 40 seconds in his eye

NOTE: The injury described herein was NOT caused by a laser but by a light-emitting diode (LED). We are including it here because the measured power of 5 mW is similar to laser pointers, and because in mid-2013 the FDA proposed to regulate toys containing lasers. This case of an LED-caused injury may stimulate arguments on both sides. Additional discussion is in blue at the end of this story.

A December 2006 incident has come to our attention. A 15-year-old Japanese boy suffered a retinal injury and visual loss after deliberately looking into a 5 mW violet (410 nm) light emitting diode for a total of about 40 seconds. The LED was in a pen was sold as a toy called “Secret Pen”. The toy appears to consist of an LED light which can excite ink that is invisible under ordinary light but which fluoresces under ultraviolet and near-UV light. The 410 nm wavelength caused photochemical damage to the retina.

According to a 2011 paper in Retinal Cases & Brief Reports, the LED was aimed into the teen’s eye from a distance of about 1 cm. It was held there for about 20 seconds as he deliberately stared into the light. This exposure was repeated the next day. About two weeks later, decreased vision (20/50 on the Snellen scale) was noted in the right eye.
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US: Teen partially blinded in one eye due to laser pointer

A 13-year-old Indianapolis-area boy lost part of the central vision in his left eye, after he shined a green laser pointer into a mirror and looked into the beam. Ross Vanderpool received the laser, whose power is unknown, in the summer of 2012 from a friend who bought it in Italy. He enjoyed playing with the laser. But the morning after looking directly into the beam, he woke up with a black dot in his vision. Vanderpool told a reporter about the vision loss: “If I close my right eye and look straight, I can’t see your nose, but I can see your mouth and earrings.”

Retinal specialist Dr. Ramana Moorthy saw a “yellowish kind of spot here with yellow black flecks [that] shouldn’t be there.” She said the injury was permanent. The boy’s father said he considered the laser pointer a toy, and that he had no idea that laser light was dangerous. He said other parents should throw away their children’s pointers.

From WTHR.com. Thanks to Jochen Pernsteiner for bringing this to our attention.

World: Hobbyist injures self with 1 watt blue laser

A laser hobbyist was injured by a 1 watt 445 nanometer (blue) laser on December 6 2011. The injury required unspecified surgery, possibly removal of intraocular blood via needle. Two days after the surgery, the hobbyist reported a blurry dark circle in his central vision. His doctor told him he would always have a small off-center blind spot, and that his brain would “auto-correct” to fill in the spot.

(UPDATE March 14 2012: The hobbyist reported “I still have the blind spot, and was effectively told by the ophthalmologist that it would probably be there the rest of my life. That doesn't bother me TOO much, since it isn't very inhibiting.”)
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New Zealand: Youth injury leads to calls for restrictions

An 11-year-old New Zealand boy has lost sharpness in his right eye, after playing with a 200 mW laser in his bedroom. The beam reflected from a mirror back into his eye, causing what the boy described as a “fuzzy blob”. Retinal specialist Dr. Dianne Sharp says the boy has a 1.5mm retinal scar that has “slightly compromised” his vision in the right eye by “reducing the reading level on the eye-testing chart by three print sizes.” His overall vision was not greatly affected, according to Dr. Sharp.

Dr. Sharp and the boy’s mother both called for restrictions on laser pointers in New Zealand. The boy’s laser was purchased in Thailand for $15 while on a family holiday in January 2011. The date of the laser injury is not known.Click to read more...

Italy: Pre-school hit twice, parents fearful

A pre-school in Rome was targeted twice by laser beams in a single month, sending students to the hospital for examinations both times. According to an Italian newspaper report, “the laser beam coming from outside the building hit them in the eyes, hurting them”. The exams showed “eyes puffy and watery, fortunately no serious injuries to the cornea.”

The school board president says that the laser could only have come from apartments overlooking the school, but “we do not know if it is the act of a madman or a child struggling with a dangerous toy.” Police are searching for the perpetrator.

After the second incident, teachers lowered the blinds in the classroom. The report also notes other “increasing” incidents where laser pointers are used against pilots and football (soccer) goalies.

From Corriere Della Sera, “Laser negli occhi dei bimbi”. Thanks to Alberto Kellner Ongaro for bringing this to our attention.

Switzerland: Boy injures self with 150 mW pointer

A 15-year-old Swiss boy severely damaged his vision after aiming the beam from a 150 mW green laser pointer at a mirror, and then reflecting it into his eyes multiple times to “create a ‘laser show’”. He suffered immediate blurred vision.

An examination two weeks later showed injuries to both retinas. There was severe vision loss in the left eye and 20/50 vision in the right. His left eye was injected with ranibizumab which helped improve vision to 20/25 after four weeks. The right eye improved on its own to 20/32.


The left eye clearly shows damage from a self-inflicted exposure to a 150 mW green laser pointer.

The report appeared in a letter published September 9 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

UK doctors: Laser pointer damages youth's eyes

A British teenager suffered burns and retinal damage, according to doctors writing in the June 8 2010 British Medical Journal. The youth aimed a “high powered” green diode laser pointer into his own eyes. Both eyes were damaged with 20/35 vision, although six months later vision had returned to 20/20.


The burn site on the youth’s right eye

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