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FDA Issues Safety Alert for Hand-Held Laser Pointers

The agency’s communication explains the risk of eye and skin injuries

The FDA has released a safety communication regarding the use of hand-held laser pointers to remind consumers about the risk of eye and skin injuries. Although most toys with lasers are safe and comply with performance standards, the FDA warns, some laser products, such as hand-held laser pointers, are being misused as toys.

FDA regulations limit the visible light power of hand-held laser pointers to 5 milliwatts (mW). Even at the 5 mW legal limit, a laser aimed directly into the eye can cause temporary flash blindness. This will not likely cause permanent injury because most people have protective reflexes such as looking away, blinking, or making other movements to protect the eyes. However, reflections of the laser beam from mirrors or metallic surfaces may not induce the protective reflex quickly enough to avoid injury. In addition, intentionally keeping the eyes open and staring into a 5-mW beam will cause eye injury.

 Lasers that emit more than 5 mW visible light power can cause irreversible eye injury of increasing severity as the power increases. High-powered laser pointers can irritate or even burn the skin. Although illegal and potentially dangerous, high-powered laser pointers are available on the Internet and in stores.

The FDA believes that many eye injuries from laser pointers go unreported. Nonetheless, the agency is aware of laser pointer injuries involving military personnel, researchers, hobbyists, and children. The FDA is aware of many child eye injuries caused when children play with laser pointers.

The FDA warns that consumers should not buy these lasers for themselves or as gifts for others and also recommends the following:

  • Do NOT buy laser pointers for children or allow them to use them. These products are not toys.
  • Do NOT buy any laser pointer that emits more than 5 mW power and does not have the power printed somewhere on the pointer or its packaging. Hand-held laser pointers over 5 mW and those that are not properly labeled are illegal and potentially dangerous.
  • Never aim or shine a laser beam directly at any person, pet, vehicle, or aircraft. The startling effect and temporary flash-blinding from a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents.
  • Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface such as a mirror or any other shiny surfaces where the beam cannot be controlled.
  • Check the label of any laser pointer that you own. If it has a power greater than 5 mW, dispose of it safely according to local environmental protection guidelines.
  • In the event of injury, immediately consult your eye doctor. Keep in mind that laser eye injuries are likely to be painless.

Source: FDA, December 22, 2015.

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