Can a Laser Pointer Hurt Your Eyes?
Laser pointers are commonly used by presenters to aid them in their demonstrations. There are concerns that laser pointers could potentially cause damage to the eyes.
If you’re worried about hurting yourself or the ones you love, continue reading to learn more regarding this concern.
What Happens if You Point a Laser in Your Eye?
Some mild symptoms could appear as a result of directly pointing a laser into your eyes, but they’re usually not serious. The most occurring symptom of laser eye damage is flash blindness. It’s just the reaction of your eyes as a result of being hit with the laser pointer, similar to looking directly at the sun when you go outdoors.
The good news is that it’s not permanent damage and you shouldn’t worry about it. If this happens while you’re doing a potentially dangerous activity, like driving, operating heavy machinery, or climbing up a hill, you should stop whatever you’re doing immediately until you can see more clearly.
Headaches are also a common symptom of laser eye damage. Headaches caused by lasers can last a few hours but there’s nothing to worry about. It’s simply your body's physical reaction to something of this nature.
Spotty vision is another less likely symptom of laser eye damage. It usually goes away within a couple of hours. Watery eyes can also happen as a result of the irritation caused by laser exposure.
If any of the previously mentioned symptoms don’t disappear in a few hours after exposure to laser beams, or if you feel pain in your eyes, then you should book an appointment with a doctor.
Can a Laser Pointer Damage Your Eyes Permanently?
Whether pointing a laser in your eyes causes eye damage or not mainly depends on the output power of the laser and the time of exposure.
Retinal damage as a result of exposure to laser can cause permanent damage to the eyes. The retina is the tissue lining the back of our eyes. It captures the images we see and sends them to the brain, creating the perception of vision, much like the sensor of a camera.
In the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is responsible for the regulation of lasers. Most lasers used in toys are classified as type I, that’s under four milliwatts of power which isn’t really enough to cause permanent eye damage.
Laser pointers are classified as either type II or type IIIA. These laser pointers can have up to five milliwatts of power. That’s enough power to cause permanent eye damage and it could take just a few seconds to severely hurt your eyes, at least theoretically.
Nevertheless, in real life, due to the fact that the eyes make tiny movements all the time, this makes it impossible to achieve a continuous exposure time long enough to cause damage. No cases of permanent eye damage by regulated lasers were reported to date.
It may seem outrageous to worry about five milliwatts of power, which is just a tiny fraction of the power of a 60 watt light bulb. However, only 10% of the power output of a light bulb is converted to light, the rest is lost as heat. On the other hand, the output power of a laser is a measure of the light output. Additionally, laser beams are coherent and highly directional whereas ordinary light is spread out.
The real problem is with illegally imported, unknown laser pointers available on the internet or at suspicious vendors. These lasers are not regulated by the FDA and thus could potentially have a power output that exceeds the specified limits. Green lasers are basically brighter than red lasers at a same power ouput, so be careful with those cheap green ones.
It was reported that a 15-year-old in Switzerland lost his eyesight after buying a laser pointer off the internet. The laser pointer had a whopping power output of 150 milliwatts. That’s 30x the power of the laser pointers approved by the FDA, which explains the irreversible damage done to the teenager’s eyes.
While permanent damage to the eyes caused by laser pointers is rather unlikely, you should always try to avoid exposing your eyes to direct laser beams, especially if the power output of the laser is unknown. Prevention is the key here. There’s no need to panic though, a split second of exposure to laser won’t cause loss of eyesight.
It’s also worth noting that it’s important to warn kids about buying lasers from unknown sources. If your child owns a pocket laser, check the label on it for the manufacturer’s name and power output to make sure that it’s safe. If it doesn’t have a label, throw it away.
Finally, check out this video below by the FDA. The video discusses the safety of laser pointers and general precautions to take.