Safety Recommendations for Laser Pointers
The use of laser pointers has become widespread. The pointers are useful tools for educators in the classroom and at conventions and meetings. However, due to the low cost and ubiquitous supply, these pointers are now being purchased and used by the general public, including children, and used in ways not intended by the manufacturers. As a result, serious concerns about the hazards of laser pointers have surfaced.
While the majority of the laser pointers contain low to moderately powered diode lasers, more powerful lasers can be found on the market, usually imported from other countries. These pointers present a significant potential for eye injury and are often not properly labeled according to FDA regulations.
There are currently no restrictions for purchasing laser pointers in the United States. The FDA hasissued a warning for laser pointers, urging that the pointers be used as intended, not as toys, and not by children unless under adult supervision. The full text of the FDA warning is included as Appendix A.
Types of Laser Pointers
The majority of the laser pointers used in the U.S. have either Class 2 lasers with a maximum power output of less than 1 mW or Class 3a diode lasers in the 630-680 nm wavelength (red), with a maximum power output of between 1 and 5 mW.
There have been reports of more powerful laser pointers imported from Russia and China that lack the appropriate warning labels. Some of these lasers emit green beams from frequency doubled Nd:YAG lasers operating at 532 nm and have emissions significantly exceeding the maximum permissible exposure (as per the ANSI laser standard, Z136). One of the lasers has a filter in the cap, which, if removed, allows the laser to emit both 532 nm and 1064 nm beams, in excess of 15 mW, making it an even more hazardous Class 3b laser.
All laser pointers should have a small sticker on them with either a yellow "Caution" or black and red "Danger" insignia, the laser classification (2 or 3a), the maximum output power (in milliwatts mW) and the wavelength. It is prudent not to purchase or use unlabeled laser pointers.
The hazards of laser pointers are limited to the eye. Although with most visible lasers, the largest concern is potential damage to the retina, most laser pointers are not likely to cause permanent retinal damage.
The most likely effects from exposure to viewing the beam from a laser pointer are afterimage, flashblindness and glare. Flashblindness is temporary vision impairment after viewing a bright light. This is similar to looking directly at a flashbulb when having a picture taken. The impairment may last several minutes.
Afterimage is the perception of spots in the field of vision. This can be distracting and annoying, and may last several minutes, although there have been reports of afterimages lasting several days.
Glare is a reduction or complete loss of visibility in the central field of vision while being exposed to the direct or scattered beam. This is similar to viewing oncoming headlights on a dark night. Once the beam is out of the field of vision, the glare ceases. While this does not pose a hazard to the eye, it can cause serious distraction and outrage. Glare can be exacerbated when the beam is reflected from a mirror-like surface.
Laser Pointer Accidents and Incidents
As laser pointers become more ubiquitous, more and more laser pointer related incidents have been reported worldwide. Most of the reports do not concern eye exposure, but outrage. For example, police officers have reportedly drawn their weapons when the light from laser pointers is mistaken for a gun sight. Laser beams projected into airspace and intercept aircraft have caused distractions and temporary vision impairment to pilots.
Several individuals have reported temporary blindness when targeted by a number of laser pointers. This is becoming more prevalent at sporting events. A few individuals complained of afterimages lasting several days.
A high school cheerleader reported being exposed at least three times. After the last episode, she reported first seeing "green", then experiencing partial vision loss, which lasted for several months. An ophthalmic exam found no retinal damage.
Laser pointers are effective tools when used properly. The following considerations should be observed when using laser pointers:
- Never look directly into the laser beam.
- Never point a laser beam at a person.
- Do not aim the laser at reflective surfaces.
- Never view a laser pointer using an optical instrument, such as binocular or a microscope.
- Do not allow children to use laser pointers unless under the supervision of an adult.
- Use only laser pointers meeting the following criteria
- Labeled with FDA certification stating "DANGER: Laser Radiation" for Class 3a lasers or "CAUTION: Laser Radiation" for Class 2 pointers.
- Classified as Class 2 or 3a according to the label. Do not use Class 3b or 4 products.
- Operates at a wavelength between 630 nm and 680 nm.
- Has a maximum output less than 5 mW, the lower the better.
- Avoid looking directly into the laser beam of your laser or pointing the beam at any other person or animals. Note that laser beam is not all visible to the naked human eye. Our Laser is design to illustrate inanimate objects ONLY.
- Do not point the laser beam at mirror-like surfaces. A reflected beam can act like a direct beam on your eye.
- Should you have trouble operating the laser properly and dummies does not work, contact us for support. Do not attempt to service or fix the device yourself at any time.
- Do not disassemble the laser (doing so will also void your warranty) and do not attempt to service it yourself or operate it under abnormal condition.
- Never view a laser beam using an optical instrument, such as binocular or a microscope.
- Our Class IIIb handheld lasers are not toys and should not be used without appropriate precautions.
- Class IIIb laser can produce a hazard if viewed directly.
- Any Laser used for entertainment, display, demonstrations or any related use intended for public viewing (indoor or outdoors) shall be operated in accordance with the laws of your country.