I’m sure all of you reading this have seen or used a laser pointer at some point in your life, or maybe you’ve even bought one online. But have you ever paid attention to the warning signs on your laser pointer or how dangerous your laser pointer can be? Well, I’m here to help keep you and your eyes safe from the damage a wrong laser pointer can do.
Let’s start off with why a laser pointer is different to a torch. The light from a torch is the combination of many colours and spreads out in all directions. A laser pointer, however, gives off light of a single colour and does not spread out but instead all the light travels in one direction. This means when you look at the light from a torch only a small section of the full range of light given off from the torch hits your eyes. Whereas, for a laser pointer all of the light from it can reach your eye in one go if you were to stare into a laser beam. This can be dangerous because all of the energy from the laser beam is depositing on your eye in one go.
The next thing to notice about laser pointers is the warning sign on the side of them. You may see a 'DANGER' sign or a bright yellow triangle with a laser beam inside it or a 'CAUTION' sign – this means that you should NOT and I repeat NOT look into your laser pointer because this will cause damage to your eyes. Laser scientists classify how dangerous lasers are by labelling them with a class. Lasers that are completely safe and will not cause any damage to your eyes are class 1 lasers. Class 2 lasers are slightly more dangerous and your blink reflex will save you if you look straight into them, but please don’t stare into any laser beam.
Class 3 lasers are EVEN more dangerous. But what’s worse is class 4 lasers – these lasers can start a fire. And so, you can imagine that these lasers can cause considerable damage to your eyes and skin. Direct eye exposure to a class 3 or 4 laser with a wavelength (colour) in the visible to infrared region, causes irreplaceable damage to the retina. These wavelengths fit into the ‘retinal hazard region’. If light is focused onto the central region of the retina, tissue structure cannot be repaired and damage is permanent.
Ultraviolet lasers are absorbed by sensitive parts of the cells that make up the cornea causing redness and other symptoms such as discharge. These effects are normally seen after a few hours. Far infrared lasers heat up tears and any water present in the eye which has a significant effect on the lens. So, you can see that lasers are dangerous and should never be used for play.
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