Cause Eye Damage

FDA: Powerful Laser Pointers Can Cause Eye Damage

You've heard about laser pointers: those devices that create intense beams of light and wreak havoc when aimed at airplane pilots. Now there's a larger concern. CBS 2's Jim Williams has more on an important health alert.

Government officials are warning that even stronger laser pointers are hitting the market that may actually hurt you.

Nathaniel Lack loves stargazing with his children. He uses a laser pointer to point out specific stars and planets in the night sky. He uses a green laser instead of a traditional red one because the light is more intense.

In addition to stargazing, these power-packed pointers can come in handy for presentations, even construction work. They're becoming increasingly popular and that has the FDA concerned.

Lieutenant Commander Sean Boyd of the Food and Drug Administration said, “High-powered laser pointers, if used inappropriately or intentionally misused, can be dangerous."

Government officials are worried about the lights being shined into people's eyes as a prank or even distracting drivers on the road.

"The effect would be a temporary visual effect such as flash blindness," Boyd said.

And temporary blindness isn't the only concern. New research out of the Mayo Clinic finds a laser that throws 5 milliwatts of light -- which is the legal limit -- can damage the retina. And anything stronger than that could possibly cause vision damage. That's an issue since the FDA is finding illegally juiced up lasers out there.

Boyd said, “Both manufacturers and the consumer can modify a green laser pointer to allow it to emit greater than the power permitted by FDA regulation."

The FDA says it's working to pull overpowered devices off the market.

Peter Baker of the Laser Institute of America says all approved lasers carry warning information. The sticker should also identify its hazard class. “Laser pointers must be no more than class 3a," he said.

Experts say never shine any laser into someone's eyes or point it at a mirrored surface. And make sure kids are supervised.

While the study out of the Mayo Clinic found green lasers can damage your eye, another study by the same researcher found that the less powerful red laser pointers do not cause any harm to the eye.