OPHTHALMIC EDUCATION Laser Pens and Keychains: Potential for Serious Eye Injury [Archives:2001/38/Health]

September 17 2001

Mahfouth A Bamashmus
Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Ibn Al-Haitham Clinic
University of Science & Technology, Sana’a
[email protected]
Until recently the cost of laser pens and keychains was fairly high which precluded sale to the general public. But a dramatic reduction in the price of small laser pens has altered their market and, because of the low price, lasers fall within the hands of the public, including children.
These lasers, available from many retailers, are often sold as “laser pens” or “laser keychains”. These laser-emitting objects are potentially harmful and should not be used by untrained personnel.
The ability of the laser to cause focal burns within the eye makes it suitable for treating conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and retinal holes. Focusing the laser onto a spot on the retina can produce permanent retinal lesions. Likewise, the laser emitted from laser pen or laser keychains, when held 10 meters from the eye, will form a retinal spot and burn.
Unfortunately the damage produced by these lasers can be permanent. If the laser only was pointed on the outer part of the eye (the cornea) it only produces an abrasion that heals within few days without any residual damage. But if is concentrated on the retina especially the yellowish spot (the macula) concerned of the main central vision the damage can be permanent. The person loses the clarity and the ability to see clearly forever with the eye affected.
Children sometimes are playing an alarming game of “chicken” to see how long they can stare into the laser beams of these pens. Not surprisingly, this makes lasers potentially very dangerous in the hands of children.
Most developed countries have produced regulations on using these “laser pens” and “laser keychains” and are not sold to the public as they used to be. Unfortunately in Yemen you can buy them easily and we need to find a way to limit its distribution and the damage it produces to the public especially the children.
Reference: The damaging effects of light on the retina by J Lanum.