A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
U.S. CPSC NEISS laser pointer reports
The Consumer Product Safety Commission operates the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). This is a national probability sample of roughly 100 hospitals. Patient information is collected for every emergency visit in these 100 hospitals that involves an injury associated with a consumer product. If the number of collected samples is large enough, the total number of product-related injuries treated in all U.S. hospital emergency rooms nationwide can be estimated.
Below are summaries of all reports for NEISS product code 0562, laser pointers, from 2000 to 2012. As of September 2013, reports only go up to Dec. 31 2012.
Summary descriptions are taken from the report text. The raw NEISS data for each report is available online if additional details are desired.
NEISS does not make national estimates if the number of sample reports per year is less than 20. For all listed years, the number of laser pointer reports was much less than 20. Therefore, NEISS cannot estimate the number of all laser pointer incidents in all U.S. hospitals. The items below include all reports from NEISS-sampled hospitals, but not from all U.S. hospitals.
All patients were “treated & released, or examined & released without treatment,” unless a different disposition is noted (examples: left the hospital without being seen, or admitted for hospitalization).
Publisher’s comment: We have provided additional information, and occasionally commentary, about these incidents in order to help differentiate eye-damage pointer incidents from other types of laser pointer incidents such as swallowing a battery or shoving it in a nostril. This provides more accurate data about pointers’ eye-damage potential versus non-eye hazards.
CPSC/NEISS laser pointer reports
2012: One eye complaint out of 5 reports
- Male, 10, playing with a red laser key chain pointer, shined light into eye; eye irritation.
- Male, 16, bit by a pit bull in the face while flashing a laser light at the dog; laceration to face.
- Female, 7, hit in the head with a metal laser pointer while at camp; laceration
- Female, 5, swallowed a battery powered laser pointer; ingested object.
- Male, 14, got metal from a laser pointer in his thumb; foreign body in thumb.
2011: Two eye complaint/injuries out of 3 reports
- Male, 29, helicopter pilot. “Noticed a green laser reflecting off an aircraft into his eyes. Had mild headache. Diagnosis: Laser exposure to eyes
- Male, 30, was driving and had laser pointer beam in left eye. Acute iritis (inflammation of the iris) in the left eye. [Note: Light from pointers -- continuous-wave, visible wavelength -- is not a hazard to the iris. The light travels through the transparent lens and is a potential hazard to the retina where it is absorbed. The iritis described may be from rubbing the eye, or a watering effect caused by the light’s brightness. But the light itself would not cause the iritis.]
- Female, 51, was playing laser tag when someone ran into her, straining her neck.
2010: One eye complaint/injury out of 4 reports
- Female infant, 22 months, ingested battery from laser pointer
- Male, 11, was in school when another student shined a red laser light in right eye. Complained of pain to eye. Superficial eye trauma.
- Male infant, 10 months, fell with laser pointer in his mouth. Palate abrasion.
- Female infant, 12 months, swallowed battery from laser pointer.
2009: One eye complaint/injury out of 3 total reports
- Female, 30, reports someone flashed a laser pointer into eye. Complained of blurry vision and eye pain.
- Male, 10, was bitten on the leg twice by a stray cat after taunting it with a laser. Injury: cat bite.
- Male, 7, was attempting a magic trick; shoved a laser pointer up his right nostril.
2008: Three eye complaints/injuries out of 5 total reports
- Male, 25, “was using a pointer, actually shaved across the 2nd and 3rd fingers.” Diagnosis: “Avulsion injury of the pad of 2nd & 3rd finger”. [Note: This is a little mysterious. “Avulsion” refers to tearing damage; it is more severe than an abrasion. It is hard to understand how a laser beam could cause the finger pads to be torn. Even with a powerful laser -- far stronger than a pointer -- the primary damage would be burning. The only other explanation we can think of is that the pointer itself somehow cut or tore the finger pads.]
- Male, 14, had a classmate point a laser pointer in the right eye, in school. Now has blurring vision in dot shape appearing in that visual field. Diagnosis: Right eye injury.
- Male, 49, had a laser pointer pointed at eye by kids. Reported eye pain.
- Male, 44, had a right eye exposure to laser pointer at school.
- Male toddler, 3, ingested a battery from a laser pointer.
2007: Four eye complaints, two of which seem valid/serious, out of 4 total reports
- Male, 17, laser beam flashed in eye at school. Reports eye pain.
- Female, 11, “laser pointer bulbar conjunctival” laceration at home. [Not sure what this means. It is classified as a “laceration” to the eyeball. But a laser pointer beam could not lacerate (cut) the surface of the eyeball.]
- Female, 32, barcode laser flashed in eyes. Diagnosis: corneal abrasion [Note: The beam from a visible laser passes through the transparent cornea, to the retina. It cannot cause trauma to the cornea. In these cases, what happens is that the person rubs the eye after being exposed. The rubbing causes a corneal abrasion.]
- Male, 34, “student has red light laser pointed in eye x 5 seconds by other student while teaching” at school. Diagnosis: eye pain, laser pointer exposure.
2006: Four eye complaints, one of which seems serious/valid, two of which the patient left without being seen, and one of which seems caused by rubbing the eye, out of 7 total reports
- Male, 9, accidentally swallowed a laser pointer/watch battery
- Female infant, 14 months, mother thinks child swallowed battery from small laser pointer
- Male, 17, stated someone pointed a laser pointer briefly into his eye. Complained of headache, no peripheral vision. Disposition: Left the hospital without being seen.
- Male infant, 10 months, swallowed a disc battery from a laser light
- Male, 10, diagnosis: left eye hemorrhage from another child pointing laser pointer in eye at home.
- Male, 15, laser pen was shined in his eyes at home. Diagnosis: scleral irritation to eyeball. [“Scleral” refers to the opaque white part of the eye. Light from a laser pointer should not cause damage to this structure. As with the corneal abrasion discussed above, the “scleral irritation” may be caused by too-vigorous rubbing of the eye after the laser exposure.]
- Male, 17, “ ‘shot’ in eye with pocket laser”. Complained of headache. No diagnosis or exam made because patient left the hospital without being seen.
2005: Two eye complaints, one which seems valid/serious, out of 3 total reports
- Male, 39, eye pain after shining laser light in it. Diagnosis: Laser light exposure
- Male, 61, was shot in right eye with laser pointer beam. Diagnosis: Eye pain. Disposition: Left without being seen.
- Female infant, 20 months, was bitten by dog after “brother playing with laser pointer with dog following it around and then lunged up and bit her on the face when she was near dog”
2004: One eye complaint/injury out of 1 report
- Female, 6, eyes hurting and pain. Laser pointer light to eye.
2003: No complaints/injuries out of 3 reports
- Male, 13, was hit in the right eye with a laser pointer at school, denies any pain or blurry vision [We have classified this as “no complaint”, but we have boldfaced it since it involves a beam in the eye]
- Male, 11, was scraping dried [?- not specified] off laser pointer at home, flake went into eye. Corneal abrasion.
- Male, 7, laser pointer stuck in nostril. Battery acid burn left nostril.
2002: One eye complaint/injury out of 1 report
- Male, 8, had laser pen light shined into his eyes at school. Diagnosis: Eye pain.
2001: No eye complaint/injury out of 1 report
- Female, 14, no narrative in the NEISS report. Diagnosis: Strain/sprain to the knee. [Perhaps someone keyed the wrong product code?]
2000: From 1 to 3 possible eye complaint/injuries out of 3 reports [cannot tell due to lack of narratives]
- Female, 16, no narrative in the NEISS report. Product = laser pointers, body part = eyeball, location = school, diagnosis = other.
- Female, 9, no narrative in the NEISS report. Product = laser pointers, body part = eyeball, location = unknown, diagnosis = other.
- Male, 20, no narrative in the NEISS report. Product = laser pointers, body part = eyeball, location = unknown, diagnosis = other.
Comparison with selected products
As a point of comparison, below are the number of reports in the NEISS for various products, for the year 2010:
- All injuries reported to NEISS: 405,710
- Stairs and steps: 36,006
- Jewelry, excluding watches: 3,203
- Trampolines: 2,922
- Sofas and couches: 1,317
- Clothing: 600
- In-line skating: 444
- Eyeglasses (excluding sunglasses): 422
- Mattresses: 384
- Books and magazines: 363
- Pillows: 258
- Drapery or curtain rods, hooks or rings: 113
- Marbles: 92
- Inflatable furniture: 50
- Nightlights: 15
- Party favors: 12
- Toasters: 10
- Projectors: 9
- Lasers: 4 (as reported above, only one of these reports is of an eye complaint or injury)
- Rocketry sets: 1
- Woodburning kits: 0
Total injury reports, and laser reports as a percentage
Here are the total injury reports that NEISS collected each year from its sample of about 100 hospitals:
- 2012: 394,383
- 2011: 396,502
- 2010: 405,710
- 2009: 391,944
- 2008: 374,260
- 2007: 369,841
- 2006: 363,616
- 2005: 360,374
- 2004: 353,394
- 2003: 347,381
- 2002: 359,980
- 2001: 356,038
- 2000: 339,244
Total injury reports collected, 2000-2012: 4,812,667
Total eye complaint/injuries from lasers 2000-2012 (e.g., all bold-faced reports above): 24
Laser pointer eye complaint/injury reports, as a percentage of total injury reports (24/4812667): 0.0005%