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An analysis of the AAO’s press release warning against laser toys that “commonly” cause eye injuries


(Note: this page provides some additional supporting evidence and discussion for the page “Are laser toys an actual hazard?”)

On December 3 2013, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a press release entitled “American Academy of Ophthalmology Warns Holiday Shoppers about Toys that Cause Eye Injuries.”

The AAO warned “consumers -- and especially parents -- to exercise caution when considering the purchase of toys that commonly cause eye injuries, such as those that shoot projectiles, contain laser devices and include other sharp or protruding parts.”

NO EYE INJURIES FROM LASER TOYS, EVER

Our research in Dec. 2013 found no eye injuries, ever, from toys that contain laser devices. Therefore, the AAO’s claim that “toys that ... contain laser devices” have caused eye injuries was false.

Certainly there have been cases of eye injuries to children from general-purpose laser pointers -- in other words, NOT from toys with lasers. From 2003 to 2012, there were seven documented reports of U.S. emergency room visits by persons aged 0-14 who had laser pointer beams aimed in their eyes and went to the emergency room for treatment (see the list of all CPSC NEISS emergency room reports here). Two of the cases seemed to have serious or permanent eye effects. In addition, there are a few cases overseas, such as the two children reported in the Saudi study described here.

But these injuries are NOT from toys containing lasers. And as far as we can tell, they are not from lasers marketed as toys or intended for children.

NO LASER TOY EYE INJURIES IN A DECADE OF MONITORING

The Consumer Product Safety Commission operates the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Every emergency visit to about 100 U.S. hospitals is collected and analyzed.

For a decade, from 2003 through 2012, the NEISS database contains 3,757,405 reported emergency visits. Of these, there were 52,827 reported emergency visits by 0-14 year olds, due to injury by toys (code 1300 through 1399). Of the 52,827 "toy" emergency visits, none were due to laser-containing toys. Specifically, only three toy reports included the word "laser;’ none were due to a laser light or a toy containing a laser (see CPSC cases 120909074, 80338509 and 70326050.)

A FAIRLY ACCURATE STATEMENT ABOUT LASERS FROM AAO

To its credit, the AAO did provide fairly accurate guidelines for laser purchasing and use. These appear to have come almost verbatim from an FDA publication. The information reads:

“Look for labels on laser products that include a compliance statement with 21 CFR Subchapter J to ensure the product meets the Code of Federal Regulations requirements for laser products, including power limitations. In addition, never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone, including animals, or reflective surfaces. The light energy from a laser aimed into the eye can be hazardous. The Food and Drug Administration also advises that bright beams of light can be startling and cause accidents when aimed at a driver in a car or otherwise negatively affect someone who is engaged in other activity (such as playing sports).”

Two caveats:

1) As of January 2014, we have not found any reported cases where laser beams aimed at drivers have caused accidents.
2) The AAO and FDA fail to mention the much more worrisome case of laser beams aimed at pilots which can be startling. While these also have not caused accidents, laser and aviation safety experts are concerned with the hazard potential when an aircraft is in a critical phase of flight.