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Can a Laser Pointer Damage Your Eyes?

Are laser pointers safe? We have all heard the rumor that laser pointers can damage the eye. Is this true? Are certain colors of laser pointers more harmful to the eye than others? Letís explore the eye and laser pointers in more depth to better understand how we can protect our eyes from this potential form of damage.

Pocket laser pointers and the eye
While many people believe that the traditional red pocket laser pointer can damage the eye, they may be wrong. If the red pointers are made according to federal guidelines and are properly labeled no reports of retinal eye damage have been reported. These red pointers should be in the 1-5 mW range. While these red pocket lasers are assumed to be safe, there is still cause for caution. The FDA regulates the labeling of these lasers. They are divided into classes each with a different level of risk. Class 2 lasers are safer to the eye than class 3 lasers. Additionally some 5 mW lasers belong to a special subclass called 3A that could potentially cause permanent retinal damage if used improperly.

Lasers and eye damage
Laser pointers only emit a very small amount of light, much less than a traditional light bulb, so you may be wondering how they can lead to eye damage. The answer requires a little explanation. While laser pointers may only emit 5 mW of light (which is much less than 1% of the light emitted by a light bulb) this light is much more concentrated than the light that comes from a traditional 60 watt bulb.

The light output of lasers and light bulbs are also measured different. In light bulbs the wattage is determined by the amount of power that is used. In lasers it is determined by the light output. Light bulbs only convert about 10% of the electricity that they use into light. Another difference is the way the light is transmitted and seen. Light bulbs send the light they produce in many directions which lessens the concentration of the light and thus reduces the risk to the eye. Laser pointers concentrate the light which can lead to a greater risk of eye damage.

Another factor to consider is how the eye will process the light. Laser pointers are often colored and the eye is more sensitive to certain colors of light than others. While red laser pointers may damage the eye if the conditions are right, the eye is much more sensitive to yellow and green light which may make green laser pointers a much greater risk to the eyes than red ones. What we really must remember is that the eye is very sensitive and we must be careful what it is exposed to. Although red laser pointers are believed to be safe certain conditions exist where these pointers could cause serious and permanent retinal damage.

Green laser pointers
While red laser pointers are generally considered safe if proper safety precautions are used, green laser pointers carry much more potential for eye damage. They may emit high levels of infrared light that can damage the eye. Researchers believe that green laser pointers, especially inexpensive models have great potential for eye damage.

One reason that these green laser pointers may be more harmful than the red pointer is that manufacturing standards are not precise enough. Often the pointers emit much stronger light than their packaging advertises. The best way to protect your eyes if you are using these pointers is to purchase a model that has an infrared filter at the end of the laser. These filters are typically found in more expensive models. Another reason to choose a more expensive model is that the inexpensive green laser pointers are often mislabeled and may be stronger or weaker than the packaging suggests. Following proper safety procedures will also help to protect the eyes.

Laser pointer safety
Whether you use a red or a green laser pointer following these safety tips can help reduce and eliminate the potential for eye damage. It is important to purchase laser pointers that have been inspected and regulated. For example if you live in the United States donít purchase laser pointers from other countries since these pointers are not regulated by the FDA and might not adhere to the same safety standards as those purchased in the U.S.

Laser pointers should also only be used by adults or by children with adult supervision. This will ensure that they are used properly and in not in a way that could potentially damage the eye. Never look into the beam of a laser pointer and never point them at a person. You should also avoid pointing the laser at reflective surfaces like mirrors and windows. In addition you should purchase laser pointers that emit less than 5 mW of light, the lower the better.

Laser pointers are generally believed to be safe, but it is important to use caution to avoid eye damage. Follow these and the manufacturerís safety recommendations and avoid using inexpensive green laser pointers.

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