In December, of 1997, after receiving reports about possible eye injuries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about hand held laser pointers. Laser pointers are generally safe when used by adults, such as teachers and lecturers, to highlight areas of interest. However, it has come to the attention of ARRA that these products are being increasingly marketed as children’s toys. They are being sold in toy and novelty stores and can be purchased over the Internet. Many of them are low cost, operated with AAA batteries and produce a red or a green beam that can be easily seen hundreds of meters away yet are small enough to be carried in a pocket or on a key chain. One design is available where the laser pointer is co-housed with a pen. These devices are not toys and should be used only by children under adult supervision and they never should be shown into people’s eyes.
Laser pointers should be labeled with the class designation and a CAUTION label if they are class II (producing a beam power up to 1 milliwatt) or a DANGER label if they are Class IIIA (limited to a power of 5 milliwatts). Some pointers are now being imported without proper labeling which are more powerful and can pose an even greater hazard. In many cases, neither the laser user nor the people irradiated are aware of the potential risk of eye injury. If someone’s eye is momentarily hit by the laser beam his or her normal reaction will be to blink and this will preclude the chance of any eye injury. However, there have been some cases where children have deliberately stared onto the beam. Theoretically, retinal damage can occur from staring (without blinking) directly into a collimated Class IIIA laser beam for more than 10 seconds, and therefore, for obvious reasons, they should not be shown into peoples eyes. Also, the beams should never be viewed with an optical aid, such as binoculars or as magnifying glass as this could intensify their effect on the retina. Momentary exposure from laser pointers may cause temporary flash blindness, glare or the appearance of afterimages. While not dangerous to the eye itself, it may be dangerous to the exposed person if they are engaged in a vision critical such as driving, flying or operating machinery.
LASER POINTER PRECAUTIONS:
Never shine a laser pointer at a person or animal, especially, at or near the eyes! Laser pointers should only be used to illustrate inanimate objects.
Do not allow children to use a laser pointer unsupervised. They are not toys.
Do not shine a laser pointer into a mirror-like surface. A reflected beam can be just as hazardous as a direct beam.
Do not purchase a laser pointer if it does not have a caution or danger sticker on it identifying its class.
Report suspicious devices to Jerome Dennis at the FDA at: (301) 594-465, providing them with as much information as possible, such as where and when the device was purchased and any identifying names or markings in the package.