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Eye hazards of laser ‘pointers’ in perspective
  1. John Marshall1,
  2. John B O'Hagan2,3,
  3. John R Tyrer4
  1. 1Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Public Health England, Didcot, UK
  3. 3Laser and Optical Radiation Dosimetry Group, Public Health England, Chilton, UK
  4. 4Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor John Marshall, UCL, Institute of Ophthalmology, 11-43 Bath Street, London EC1V 9EL, UK; Eye.marshall{at}

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Eight years ago media coverage of incidents involving laser pointers in which individuals claimed to have suffered eye damage resulted in a perspective being published in this journal.1 The final sentence concluded ‘laser pointers, pens or key rings if used appropriately are not an eye hazard, and even if used inappropriately will not cause permanent eye damage’. This statement has been supported by the finding that until recently no irreversible eye injuries had been reported for a period of almost 15 years other than those caused by deliberate and prolonged viewing of laser beams.2 During this time period pointers have been freely available with an estimated 500 000 to c1.2 million laser pointers in circulation.

Unfortunately this is now not the case. While the biophysics relating to eye injuries remains constant the nature and supply of current handheld devices have changed dramatically in the past 8 years. In the past, pointers predominantly produced red laser beams and were restricted to have an upper output limit of 1 mW and as such were classified as class 2 laser products. Safety was afforded by insufficient energy being able to pass into the eye before the targeted individual blinked and turned their head. In reality, as a result of both increased efficiency of modern devices and poor manufacturing compliance many of these devices classified as class 2 have outputs of between 0.5 and 300 mW. Clearly, they are mislabelled and should have been identified as class 3B laser products, which are not appropriate for general sale to the public.

Today, low-cost laser ‘pointers’ producing green or red laser beams with output powers of 1000 mW can be found and indeed devices on the internet of between 1500 and 6000 mW are commercially available. These …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.