Laser pointer danger

Laser pointers are commonly sold at school disco's and in $2 shops, but optometrists are warning against their use

An Australian teenager has lost 75% of his vision after shining a laser pointer into his eyes, says Tasmanian optometrist Ben Armitage. The Hobart-based optometrist saw the boy shortly after the incident and was able to inspect the laser pointer, which the teen had bough on eBay. Armitage was disheartened to see large burns to the boys retina which will not heal, causing permanent and irreversible vision loss.

Armitage says the device the boy had was much more powerful than the 1 milliwatt limit allowed to be sold in Australia. In New Zealand the limit is also one milliwatt and it's actually illegal to carry a high-powered laser pointer in public without a good reason. 

"These devices should not be purchased online unless it is clear they meet the Australian legal requirement and standard and have a power of 1 mW or less, or you have a permit and a legitimate occupational need for them," says Armitage, who is concerned these dangerous devices are often written off by parents as 'toys'. 

‘Regardless of the power of the device, lasers should never be used as a plaything by children, and never be aimed or pointed at anyone’s eyes.’

Laser pointer safety

  • only buy laser pointers from New Zealand outlets, not online

  • check the label - if the power is greater than 1 milliwatt discard it immediately

  • don't allow children to use them unsupervised. Ask your school to ban them from disco events

  • green lasers often have a poser of 5MW or greater. If you need one for professional reasons, keep it locked away when it isn't being used.*


Tauranga-based optometrist Alex Petty agrees with Armitage, and wants people to understand why lasers are more dangerous than other light sources.

"A laser light is a highly collimated beam of light, this means it does not loose its energy the further away you are form the source like a light bulb does for example," says Petty. "Because of this if laser is directed to a sensitive area, such as the macula in a human eye, even a relatively low energy light source can cause damage as all the light energy reaches that point, not a small amount."

Petty says that the labels on many laser pointer products may not be accurate.

"Laser's have different classes depending on the energy level of the light produced. Most laser pointers claim to be at a level that is safe to use, however lasers produced in countries where these claims are not strictly enforced may be higher power and risk more damage," says Petty. "Also, much like a car accident can occur in a car travelling within the speed limit, in some cases damage from lasers can occur within 'safe' limits. Especially if a child stares at the light for a period of time, rather than just an accidental glance."

Petty warns that lasers should never be pointed at someone's face, never be directed into the eyes, and should not be directed onto a mirror or reflective surface, as the beam will continue to cause damage even when reflected.