Laser pointers might seem innocuous at first glance, but when used in the wrong way, these small, harmless-looking devices, could cause serious eye injuries, such as what happened in the case of a 9-year-old boy in Greece.
A case study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine discussed what happened with the young boy, who had stared multiple times at the green beam of a laser pointer. Doctors discovered that the boy had severely injured his retina, as the device had apparently burned a hole into the macula, which CNN described as a feature found in the retina that helps people distinguish details in faces, and also assists in intricate tasks such as reading and driving.
Normally, surgery is the preferred method of treatment for macular holes, though this would come with a very high chance of cataract formation, University of Thessaly (Greece) assistant professor of ophthalmology Sofia Androudi told CNN. Androudi, who was one of the doctors who worked on the boy’s case, added that the child’s injury was especially serious, as the nerves in his eye were completely damaged by the laser burn.
“This means that even if the surgery would be successful, the boy would not be able to see.”
As it isn’t uncommon for children to be reluctant to tell their parents or guardians about eye injuries, Androudi added that she believes the Greek boy in the case study might have been burned his retina at least one year before he was treated. That point, however, would have been moot, she added, as there wouldn’t have been any available treatment for the child’s injuries.
About 18 months after the boy first came in for treatment, his vision remained as it was — 20/20 in his right eye and 20/100 in his left, according to CNN. That means the child has to be 20 feet within a point of focus so that he could see things a person with normal vision can clearly see from 100 feet away.
The case study indicated that the boy’s father purchased the laser pointer from a street merchant before giving it to his son to use as a toy. As it was a green laser, Androudi stressed that it is more dangerous to use than a typical red-orange pointer, as human eyes are more sensitive to blue-green light.
Over in the United States, laser pointers with over five milliwatts of power are restricted by the Food and Drug Administration, though Androudi warned that these restrictions aren’t consistently enforced, thus making powerful, intense pointers available for online purchase without any hitches. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute professor of ophthalmology Peter Gehlbach, who was not involved in the study, told CNN that powerful laser pointers are oftentimes mislabeled to understate the power output.
“The power output, rather than being five milliwatts, can be 10, 50 or even higher,” said Gehlbach.
“And these are particularly dangerous powers, and there’s no way for you to know as a user that this laser pointer that you got off the internet has the right power.”
Given the circumstances behind the young patient’s injury, CNN ended its report with a stern warning from researcher Androudi — lasers, whether they may be in pointer form or not, “should never be considered toys.”