Friday, April 15, 2011

More on Laser Pointer Eye Injuries

Eye injuries from laser pointers are on the rise. The manufacturers and sellers of laser pointers seem not to care that the majority of laser pointers on the market today are far more powerful than the levels permitted by the governments. The other maddenign thing is that the makers and sellers of laser pointers clearly market these devices to kids- the people most likely to misuse them.  This epidemic prompted the following letter that was recently submitted to the New England Journal of medicine:

Hand held laser pointers are commonly used in lecture halls and are considered to be harmless and safe. However, laser pointers can cause severe eye injury, as demonstrated by the case of a 15-year-old boy. The boy had ordered a hand held laser pointer with green light on the Internet to use as a toy for popping balloons from a distance and burning holes into paper cards (isn't the fact that these lasers can burn holes in objects reason enough to more closely regulate this industry??) and his sister's sneakers. The boy's life changed when he was playing with his laser pointer in front of a mirror to create a “laser show,” during which the laser beam hit his eyes several times. He noticed immediate blurred vision in both of his eyes. Hoping that the visual loss would be transient and afraid of telling his parents, he waited 2 weeks before seeking an ophthalmic assessment, when he could no longer disguise his bad vision. His visual acuity was so poor in his left eye that he was only able to count fingers at a distance of 3 ft, and it was 20/50 in his right eye. A funduscopic examination revealed a dense subretinal hemorrhage in his left macula and several tiny round scars in the pigment epithelium of the foveolar region of his right eye. The clinical findings were consistent with severe bilateral retinal laser injury.  After 4 months, the boy's visual function remained impaired but improved to 20/32 in the right eye spontaneously and to 20/25 with a remaining scar just beside the center of the fovea in the left eye after one intravitreal injection of ranibizumab.

In the past, laser pointers sold to the public had a maximal output of 5 mW, which is regarded as harmless because the human eye protects itself with blink reflexes.  The measured output of the laser in this case was 150 mW. The use of lasers that are threatening to the eye is normally restricted to occupational and military environments; laser accidents outside these fields are very rare (that is clearly not the case any more now that these companies push high-powered lasers into commerce).  However, powerful laser devices, with a power of up to 700 mW, are now easily obtainable through the Internet, despite government restrictions.  These high-power lasers are advertised as “laser pointers” and look identical to low-power pointers. The higher power of such devices may produce immediate, severe retinal injury. Despite their potential to cause blinding, such lasers are advertised as fun toys and seem to be popular with teenagers.  In addition, Web sites now offer laser swords and other gadgets that use high-power lasers.

Neither the owners nor the potential victims of such dangerous “toys” can distinguish harmless laser pointers from hazardous ones, and we may see more such eye injuries in the near future.

If you believe you have been injured by a laser pointer do the following:

1. Seek immediate medical treatment

2. Follow your doctor's orders and recommendations

3. Keep the laser pointer and receipt for its purchase

4. Consider discussing your situation with an attorney

Read my previous post on laser pointer injuries here. Share this post :
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