Laser Pointers and Eye Damage

Dr. Kisling Uncategorized 4 Comments

Parent Safety Alert!

Teenagers May be Purchasing Eye Sight Damaging Laser Products Over the Internet

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found some unscrupulous Internet stores are selling  laser products that are overpowered and can potentially cause eye damage and blindness if used in an improper manner. Some lasers approved as medical devices only due to their power and potential for vision damage if used improperly are also being sold on the consumer online market.

Overpowered green lasers are a particular point of concern. Green pointer lasers appear much brighter even at the same power level so boosting them power supply appears to have more effect. They evidently are somewhat easier to work with. Most of the aircraft incidents of lasers being projected into the cockpit have been green lasers.

    Lasers are classified from level 1 through 4 with level one having no detrimental effects known. Level 3 and 4 will damages unprotected eyes when aimed at vital structures such as the retina.

    What you can do to protect yourself and family is to follow the below suggestions:

    1. Never aim or shine a laser pointer at anyone.
    2. Don’t buy laser pointers for your children.
    3. Before purchasing a laser pointer, make sure it has the following information on the label:
      • a statement that it complies with Chapter 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations)
      • the manufacturer or distributor’s name and the date of manufacture
      • a warning to avoid exposure to laser radiation
      • the class designation, ranging from Class I to IIIa. Class IIIb and IV products should be used only by individuals with proper training and in applications where there is a legitimate need for these high-powered products.

    Generally small laser pointers are low powered and very safe. Be sure you know what you are purchasing and that it will be used in a safe manner.

    Comments 4

    1. jon pierce

      As a checkout cashier working with lasers I’m concerned about the long term affect from the lazers at work. We use scanning beds on counters and hand guns to scan merchandise. My concern is about long term exposure from the lazers over a period of five years or more years.
      I began to be concerned when I saw the teenager cashiers pointing the lazer gun at their friends or a customer and zapping them as a form of horse play. Also I began to notice alot of cashiers lay the hand guns on it’s side aimed towards another cashier. Then they use the bed scanner it causes the hand gun to flash in the direction of the other cashier. There have been times this happened to me. I felt nausea and got a headache immediately after the beam aimed at me, flashed at me. I moved to a different register out of the line of the flashing hand gun and the heachade went away. I’ve told management the lazer gives me a headache and that is why I moved to another area.
      We have alot of cashiers and high volume sales, every day. Management does not train us at all on using the hand held gun or the counter flat bed lazer. They never instructed any cashiers not to point the guns at customers or assocoiates. Nor do they instruct cashiers to set the guns on the counter with the beam facing the counter rather than facing customers/fellow associates. I noticed some retail stores have a cradle for the gun to be placed. Our gun can be moved across the counter because it has a long cord. This is to scann large merchandise to big to be put on the counter. Our store has a long cord but no cradle, and no training.
      Because this is a new possible health hazard in the work place no one has medical data to give a diagnosis which would set regulations in place. I am very concerned because it seems employers are not.

    2. Post

      Hi Jon,

      There are no known damaging effects on the eye from the lasers used in checkout scanners. These are classified as type 2 lasers and typically require over 1000 seconds of uninterrupted exposure to the same spot on the eye to cause any damage. Two things prevent this level of exposure:
      1. There is a normal aversion reflex after 1/4 second of viewing any object
      2. These are scanning lasers and are constantly moving

      There are two types of radiation:
      1. Ionizing as found in x-rays and microwaves. These have enough energy to disrupt electrons from atoms and cause cumulative damage that adds up with each exposure
      2. Non ionizing radiation. This the type that the infrared light in the bar-code scanners could potentially cause. Non ionizing radiation creates damage with intense enough exposure but is considered to be related only to each incident and not cumulative from exposure below damaging levels.

      All of the above aside, it is just plain stupid to aim the things at people. Even visible light we are exposed to on a daily basis outside probably has some damaging effects that are cumulative over the course of a lifetime. These are small effects and walking by a road is much, much worse for your health. I would still try to get everyone on board with using them in a more cautious manner. As a consumer I don’t like getting a bar code flash in my eyes, and that is bad business for a lot of folks.

      Best Wishes


      I work at FedEx where employees use bar code scanner alot. I also stay concerned of the fact of them doing damage to my eyes. So are these bar code scanner also classified as class II and safe?

    4. Post
      Dr. Kisling

      Hi Roy,

      Most bar code scanners are class 1, some are class 2. I don’t know which FEDx is using but I don’t believe you have anything to worry about. I looked at them within the last year and it is just about impossible to find cases of eye damage. I would not recommend staring at them but I really doubt you are at any risk. Even intense visible light can cause small amounts of damage but it takes at least a few minutes of staring at a highly intense light. Very few people will look at a bar code scanner or visible light for long enough to potentially create a problem. Safety with a class 2 bar scanner comes from several different factors:
      1. Very low power output
      2. Visible light (red)
      3. The natural blink reflex
      4. The LASER oscillates typically across 30 -40 degrees or more making it impossible to stare at for the time period necessary to create retinal damage

      While I have not heard of it happening, if the oscillation mirror failed you possible could stare at the LASER long enough to create damage but you would pretty much have to do this by intent. You would probably notice the shimmering effect from the oscillation was absent if this had malfunctioned.

      Best Wishes!

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