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Consumer laser eye injury info

This page discusses the severity and number of eye injuries caused by consumer laser pointers and handheld lasers.

If you have suffered an eye injury, go to the page about injury diagnosis and treatment instead.

Serious/permanent eye injuries

Only a few serious or permanent eye injuries per year worldwide are reported due to consumer lasers. Many or most of these turn out to be self-inflicted; for example, a teen tries to have a “lightshow” in his eye.

Temporary/minor eye injuries

There are a larger number of laser pointer-caused minor eye injuries. Again, many or most are self-inflicted.

Often these will heal over time, or the spots will have no adverse effect on vision. The brain can "fill in" small spots so they are not noticeable except when looking at a uniform blue sky or white wall.

There are some media reports and hospital reports of incidents resulting in temporary effects such as eye irritation, spots, or headache. At LaserPointerSafety.com we call these "eye effects" rather than "eye injuries." These are not the same as a physical injury to retinal tissue or other eye structures.

How many injuries?

It is hard to say precisely how many eye injuries have been caused by laser pointers and handheld lasers. For one thing, "eye injury" can be used loosely to describe anything from blurry eyes and eye pain, to serious or permanent retinal damage.

As of 2019, studies have recorded roughly 100 injuries serious enough to be in scientific papers or letters to scientific journals. Most of these have occurred in the 2010's, with numbers increasing each year. For details, see the section below, "Scientific reviews of reported laser eye injuries."

For less serious injuries, some evidence seems to indicate there may be relatively high numbers of people affected.

  • A 2019 U.K. survey of consulting ophthalmologists found each respondent knew, on average, of about one case of macular injury said to be from misuse of a handheld laser. The survey was sent to 990 consulting ophthalmologists so this would seem to imply at least 990 cases in the U.K.

  • A 2019 report of a Canadian study shows a surprisingly high number of persons over the age of 12 reporting "discomfort or injury" from consumer laser pointers — perhaps around 40,000 annually. Extrapolating to the larger U.S. population, that would be over 350,000 Americans over the age of 12 with discomfort or injury from consumer laser pointers.

But there is other evidence that consumer laser eye injuries, serious enough to seek medical treatment or make insurance claims, are rare:

  • During the 18 years 2000-2017, emergency room reports from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission "NEISS" sample of roughly 100 hospitals found just 37 eye complaints due to laser pointers or handheld lasers. Of these, not all were confirmed retinal injuries — many were of "eye pain." Over the same 18 years there were 6,678,321 NEISS emergency room reports. This means that the 37 laser eye complaints represent 0.00055% of the total emergency room visits recorded by NEISS.

  • Data from New Zealand’s national insurance system show that over the period 2000 to 2013, there was an average of 8.9 claims for laser eye or skin injuries each year. The average claim amount was NZD $93.63 (USD $61.42), which a representative said “would suggest the injuries were not significant.” The data includes all New Zealand laser injury claims, whether verified or not, from all sources including lasers used in industry and laboratories. If the New Zealand rate was extrapolated to the U.S. population, this would mean about 600 claims per year in the U.S. for all types of lasers. Detailed statistics and analysis are in this article.

Clearly, more research and analysis needs to be done to determine the number and severity of eye effects and injuries caused by laser pointers and handheld lasers.

Details and additional information