“It happens so fast even your blink reflex can’t protect you.”
Laser pointers seem so much fun – kids love them, cats love them and they seem to make a great stocking filler.
Irreversible sight loss
A powerful laser pointer shone into the eye causes loss of central vision – this is the vision we need to read, recognise faces or cross the road.
There are no surgical or medical treatments to reverse the damage. And no other areas of the eye can compensate for the loss of central vision.
9-year-old Archie was left with a ‘black hole’ in one eye and almost blind in both eyes after taking a peek at a laser pen. He can no longer read, see the faces of his family and friends, play sports or cross the road by himself.
His mum Emma Carson told the Daily Express:
“On the scan it literally looks like a bullet has gone through his eye. You can see a black hole all the way through his eye.”
A moment of a high-powered laser shone in the eye is all it takes to cause irreversible damage.
In fact, it can take as little as a quarter of a second, if the output is powerful enough. So fast that even your blink reflex can’t protect you.
How do laser accidents happen to children?
Children tend to be fascinated with lasers. Their first instinct is often to look into the beam to see what it looks like or to shine it into the eyes of a friend or brother or sister. They have no idea of the potential dangers.
You may be able to warn older children not to look directly at the light. But their curiosity will often get the better of them. And younger children will struggle to understand consequences even with the strongest warnings.
Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, a Consultant in Paediatric Ophthalmology at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, said: “In our children’s eye casualty in London, and also at our satellite centres in Bedford, Northwick Park and East London, children present with profound loss of vision after playing with hand-held lasers.
“Children re-enact light saber fights, are fascinated by the bundled light, and might stare at the laser light, causing irreparable damage to the retina. Parents need to be made aware of the risks that lasers pose to eyesight.”
“If I can buy it, it must be safe”
The law says that all laser pointers sold in the UK must be safe. The safety threshold for laser pointers is 1 milliwatt (mW). The threshold for toys using laser pointers is stricter at just 0.39 mW.
However, many laser pointers do not conform to these safety standards, even if they are labelled as safe. False labelling is now a real problem – tests have shown that lasers may be 40 to 80 times more powerful than the label implies.
There are particular problems with laser pointers sold online, cheap imports often found in markets and discount stores, and goods bought on holiday.
It is IMPOSSIBLE to tell, when you buy a laser pointer, if it is safe or not.
Robert Chantry-Price, a lead officer for product safety at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, told the Sun:
“It is a real concern that hundreds of substandard laser pens are so easily accessible to buy online. The majority of these products are imported from the Far East, where safety requirements are lower than in the UK.”
“I never, ever thought that something you can buy in a toy shop would be that dangerous.”
Safety tips on laser pointers
- They’re cheap, they’re fun, they’re brightly coloured. They look like the perfect stocking filler. But there’s a real risk they can permanently damage a child’s eyesight. So lose lasers from your Christmas gift list.
- While lasers make fun playthings for cats, of course children want to take their turn directing the beam and seeing the cat pounce. So, for safety’s sake, swap the laser pointer for a catnip mouse!
- If your child is given a laser pointer by a well-meaning relative or family friend, use the excitement of unwrapping present after present to quietly move it somewhere safe until you can safely dispose of it. Take care it doesn’t get buried under layers of wrapping paper, to be played with later.
- To safely dispose of the laser, remove the battery and check with your local council website about recycling or disposal.
“Last year my children (aged 3, 6 and 8) were given these fantastic t-shirts from a reputable gift shop in a London museum. They have a white panel on the front and you have to point a laser at it to doodle or write on the t-shirt, then turn off the lights and your design glows in the dark.
“You can imagine the fun they all had pointing the lasers at each other’s tummies trying to write their names. But I really didn’t want to encourage them to point lasers at themselves or each other, as they were bound to end up in someone’s eye. So later, when the friend who had given them to the children had gone, I had to quietly ‘disappear’ the present into the recycling pile and we disposed of the lasers.”
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