Laser pointers — commonly used for lectures and presentations — have been the center of controversy over occasional misuse.
While California lawmakers treat them like weapons, some communities forbid minors to have them or heavily regulate their sale.
The pointers can lead to accidents if they are used to distract drivers, pilots or people using dangerous equipment, according to Martin Mainster, professor emeritus at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and who is frequently cited expert in retinal damage.
But he and other researchers have pointed out that because they are very low power, eye damage from the devices is temporary. Even then, someone would have to stare into a beam at least 10 seconds, according to a paper Mainster co-authored on pointer hazards.
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The body’s instinct is to blink or look away after seeing bright light, limiting exposure to less than a quarter of a second, research found.
While he notes children shouldn’t play with laser pointers, Mainster has blamed misleading press reports about the perceived hazards of the devices for what he has described as hysteria.
The damage is not from the laser, but from self-inflicted corneal abrasions after rubbing eyes too hard after being flashed, he says.
— Antonio A. Prado