Can laser be seen

Düsseldorf, January 16, 2014 - The professional association of ophthalmologists draws attention to the fact that injuries to the retina with partially permanent visual impairment from laser pointers are becoming more and more common. When such dangerous rays hit the eye, even ophthalmologists can no longer help. The professional association of ophthalmologists in Germany therefore again advises responsible use of laser pointers.

Ophthalmologists have to deal with such cases more and more often: A boy was given a laser pointer while on vacation and was playing with it in front of a mirror at home. The reflected beam hit him in the eye and injured the macula, the point of sharpest vision on the retina. Ophthalmologists from Saudi Arabia recently published a case series of 14 young male patients, most of whom were injured while playing with laser pointers, in the US American journal “Ophthalmology”. Retinal hemorrhages and holes in the macula were the damage caused by the rays. There was a spontaneous improvement in vision in only four patients; the others had to be treated.

The series of reports about airplane pilots or football players and drivers who are deliberately injured with lasers does not stop. And children keep getting injured when they play supposedly harmless games. That is why ophthalmologists emphasize once again: a laser pointer is not a toy! The blink reflex does not provide sufficient protection against laser glare. In particular, devices bought abroad or illegally imported often exceed the applicable limit values. The Swiss Federal Office of Metrology recently tested 48 laser pointers, most of which were confiscated by the Bern cantonal police after being used without permission. The investigations showed that only two laser pointers complied with the permissible limit, all others were stronger than their class would have allowed. One of the devices was even 1000 times too strong.

Laser beams emanate almost parallel from the light source. The strong bundling enables high radiation levels, which can damage the retina of the eye in particular. "If laser light hits the retina, in simple cases the sensory cells can be dazzled without structural damage, which will improve after a few minutes," explains Prof. Horst Helbig, Director of the University Eye Clinic Regensburg, the first symptoms. “Most people are also familiar with this phenomenon from other bright light sources. However, if the laser light acts on the retina for a longer or longer period, irreversible tissue damage can also occur. The circumscribed loss of vision, as we know it after glare, does not regress completely. This can lead to a permanent loss of central vision and reading skills, ”explains Prof. Helbig.

Tips for dealing with lasers

Basically the following applies to the handling of laser pointers:

  • The beam should never be aimed at other people's eyes.
  • Users should never intentionally look into the direct beam themselves.
  • If the laser radiation hits the eye, you should consciously close your eyes and move your head out of the beam.
  • The radiation source must not be viewed with optical instruments such as magnifying glasses.
  • Laser pointers should have the GS mark (tested safety). Only lasers with a maximum power of 1 mW are considered safe for the eyes.
  • Laser pointers do not belong in the hands of children and young people.

Above all, it is important to avoid laser damage to the eye, advises Prof. Helbig. "If, however, visual disturbances occur after exposure of the eye with a laser, one should immediately consult an ophthalmologist. He can try treatment with high-dose cortisone in order to keep the permanent damage as small as possible."