The danger of handheld lasers

Recent reports suggest that there is an increase in the number of young people attending hospital with ocular damage caused by handheld laser pointer devices. One recent report details the treatments required on fourteen patients who had an average age of 17. Approximately 70% of the patients required surgery, half of them had haemorrhaging inside the eye, and 4 of them had full thickness macular holes (a hole in the retina at the back of the eye, in the area where best vision is usually achieved).

All patients showed an improvement in visual acuity compared to that at presentation, but the mean acuity initially was approximately 6/90 – that means that what a normal eye should see at 90 metres, they could see at 6 metres -quite poor. Average vision achieved after recovery was 6/12- the eye required things to be twice as big or half as far away as normal.

There have been reports for years about pilots and police officers being dazzled by laser pointer pens, but these new lasers are much more powerful, and are a shorter wavelength of light- laser pointers used in presentations are usually red, but these new ones are blue, with a wavelength of 450nm. This colour is better absorbed by back of the eye, resulting in more damage than a red coloured laser. There are even posted methods on YouTube on how to increase the power output of a handheld pocket laser, though some available online are hugely powerful to begin with. They may look a bit like a light sabre from StarWars, but there could be serious consequences of playing a prank with one of these devices.

Experts predict that, if left unregulated, handheld lasers purchased online could cause an epidemic of ocular injuries.

Parents be warned- don’t let your children have one of these!

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