A case series published by opthalmologists based in Sheffiled and Bolton has demonstrated the devastating consequences of misusing laser pointers. Five children, aged 8-15 years were shown to have long term damage to their vision after playing with laser pointers. One of the young patients, an eight year old boy, has been left with permanent laser scars, visible at the centre of his vision as a result of a laser beam momentarily being flashed in his eye for no more than a few seconds. This has dramatically reduced his vision which has dropped to 3/60 (normal vision is 6/6). He can now only read the largest letter on a standard Snellen chart from 3 metres, whereas a person with normal vision can do this from 60 metres.
Lead author of the study, Mr Fahd Quhill, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Senior Lecturer at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, comments on the effect of these laser injuries, “Misuse of these laser products can lead to irreversible damage to the eye. The retina is a very sensitive part of the eye and once damage is done, it is irreparable. This can impact on children’s futures with normal activities being compromised such as reading, recognition of faces, driving or playing sport.” Legislation and Standards (British Standard on Laser Safety (BS EN 60825-1:2007) cover the manufacture and supply of laser products in the European Union and group lasers into ‘Classes’ according to their potential for harm. Public Health England (PHE) advise that laser products sold to the general public for use as laser pointers should generally be restricted to class 1 or 2 devices (laser power less than 1mW) and be accompanied by sufficient information on their safe operation. Mr Quhill added “One of the laser pointers that caused the retinal damage in one of our child cases was 72mW and all measured were more than 40mW of power and thus Class 3B.” Commenting on the publication in ‘Eye’, Dr John O’Hagan of the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England said, “For many years we have been concerned about the availability of these lasers. The markings on the devices andthe packaging are often misleading. Output powers may be considerably higher than marked. There are European proposals to control the sale of handheld laser products that may cause injury. However, these proposals will only be relevant to products placed on the market in Europe; they will not cover personal imports over the internet from outside the European Union.”http://www.nature.com/eye/journal/v28/n2/full/eye2013315a.html