The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Laser Institute of America and the American National Standards Institute have all released safety notifications to the public about the risk of injury from handheld lasers with an output power of more than five milliwatts. The natural protective mechanisms of the eye are ineffective against these lasers, and severe retinal damage may occur, even after momentary exposure. Studies have also shown that blue lasers are more likely to cause retinal injury compared with green or red lasers.
A study recently released online in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, reveals the easy availability of the lasers, marketed as toys. The subjects in the study were male, reporting that exposure was accidental. Central vision was permanently diminished in ten subjects after medical intervention.
Toys with laser lights have been popular since the first Star Wars movie. Back then, the sabers only appeared to shine laser light. Today, kids are playing with the real thing. Many parents will be giving in to buy Star Trek's phaser laser pointer, Doctor Who's screwdriver LED flashlight, bike helmets with blue laser lights and laser pointer pens.
Very young children should not be given toys with laser lights. Older children should be told about the danger to their sight and the sight of friends with whom they interact with the lasers. Goggles are recommended during play with the laser toys. Laser pointer pens should only be given to adults as gifts. Even so, it is recommended that adults be told of the possible risk to eyesight.
The lasers don't actually burn through any material, giving the impression that the toy or instrument is harmless. The toys with red or green lights are not safe to point at eyes, either, because they can also damage eyesight.
An unscientific, informal poll of five young men who were or are currently users of instruments with laser lights said they were aware it wasn't safe to point the lights into the eyes, but were not aware of the real danger to eyesight. This type of toy or gift does not appear to be worth the potential danger to a child's eyesight.