An ophthalmologist at Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital has cautioned the public about the damage that laser pointers can cause to eyes, after a 10-year-old Kaohsiung boy suffered retinal damage after playing with a laser pointer with a classmate.
Handheld laser pointers are useful in educational and business presentations, but they are not toys and can cause severe, sometimes permanent, retinal damage if shone directly into the eyes, Department of Ophthalmology director Wu Pei-chang (吳佩昌) said on Sunday.
When his patient and a friend were playing with the laser pointer, they were trying to dodge the beam so that it did not hit their eyes, but at some point the laser did hit the boy’s left eye, Wu said.
The boy later said he felt a temporary stinging pain and was sensitive to light afterwards, but his family did not seek medical attention.
However, during a regular eye exam two weeks later, a visible retinal burn was discovered in the boy’s left eye, Wu said.
Laser pointers produce a high-powered beam of monochromatic light that is concentrated in a small area, and if the beam hits the eye, it passes through the cornea, vitreous body and onto the retina, where the intensity of the light can be expanded by about 100 times, he said, adding that retina cells that respond to light are pigmented and can heat up if hit by a laser beam.
If the laser beam had been pointed at his eye for a longer period, the boy could have suffered a retinal tear, bleeding or even blindness, the doctor said.
The boy underwent photocoagulation treatment and will need regular follow-up exams to monitor the eye’s healing, but he did not suffer any vision loss, Wu said.
If somone is exposed to any kind of laser light, whether from a pointer, stage lighting or cosmetic lasers, and their eyes later do not feel normal, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage, Wu said.
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