A nine-year-old Greek boy made the news this summer when he burnt a macular hole into his own left eye, leaving himself partially blinded.1,2  Another boy in Essex, England, also nine, created his own macular scars and retinal damage—in both eyes—leaving a large black spot over most of his vision.3 Both boys created the damage with a simple, pedestrian laser pointer, items their parents believed were toys.

Their shared diagnosis, laser pointer maculopathy, is a trend on the rise, according to a publication in Acta Ophthalmology.4 In fact, more than half of the published cases since the first incidents in 1999 have been published between 2014 and 2017, the researchers say. The team reviewed 13 of these cases from eight ophthalmology departments. The damage was severe. All the subjects complained of unilateral vision loss. Initial visual acuities in exposed eyes ranged from 0.05 to 1.0 Snellen equivalent or better. Imaging of nine subjects showed abnormalities. One had a macular hole, which closed after vitrectomy. Long-term visual acuity ranged from 0.3 to 1.0 Snellen equivalent or better.

“We suspect that incidence of exposure and subsequent visual loss is rising, and we encourage national legislators to regulate this market,” the team concluded.

Other doctors are convinced these devices should be kept away from children altogether. “Laser pointers should not be placed in the hands of children,” says Marc Taub, OD, Chief of Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation at the Southern College of Optometry’s Eye Center. “The loss of structure and function can be significant as witnessed by the subjects presented.”

Part of the issue is the power of these devices, which, in the 13 cases the investigators reviews, ranged from laser wavelengths of 572nm (green) to 450nm (blue). Red lasers of unknown wavelength were also in the mix. Output powers were between 5mW and 5,000mW.

1. Androudi A, Papageorgiou E. Macular hole from a laser pointer. N Eng J Med. 2018;378:2420.

2. Moulite M. Laser pointer burns hole in boy’s retina. CNN. edition.cnn.com/2018/06/20/health/laser-pointer-eye-hole-study/index.html. June 20, 2018. Accessed November 15, 2018.

3. Mann T. Boy blinded himself after shining laser in his eye after his mum told him not to. Metro UK. metro.co.uk/2018/09/05/boy-blinded-himself-after-shining-laser-in-his-eye-after-his-mum-told-him-not-to-7915033/. September 5, 2018. Accessed November 15, 2018.

4. Torp-Pedersen T, Welinder L, Justesen B, et al. Laser pointer maculopathy – on the rise? Acta Ophthalmologica. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aos.13856. October 2, 2018. Accessed November 15, 2018.