Retinal burns from laser pointers: a risk in children with behavioural problems

Eye (Lond). 2019 Mar;33(3):492-504. doi: 10.1038/s41433-018-0276-z. Epub 2018 Dec 13.


Objective: To explore self-inflicted retinal burns from laser pointers in children.

Methods: Literature review of laser pointer retinal injuries in childhood and online survey of UK Consultant Ophthalmologists. A cohort of local children with self-inflicted injury is described. The matter is topical. We review progress in recent legislation and policy change in the UK.

Results: Four of 77 case reports of laser burns in childhood analysed reported psychological or behavioural issues. Three of four children in our cohort had such issues. Delay in diagnosis occurred in two of our patients. Structural retinal damage persisted for over 12 months in all four children (seven eyes). Our survey of UK ophthalmologists found 159 cases of injury (85% male), 80% under 20 years of age. The majority of the laser pointers were purchased online. Many patients (36%) suffered moderate vision loss (6/18 to 6/60 Snellen), while 17% (at least 11 patients) suffered severe vision loss (<6/60 Snellen).

Conclusion: We highlight the risk of macular damage and vision loss from handheld lasers specifically in children with behavioural, learning or mental health issues. The diagnosis may be difficult or delayed in such children. In children with uncertain macular changes, ophthalmologists should explore the history for possible instances of exposure to handheld lasers pointers. Regulatory authorities and manufacturers of handheld lasers need to be aware of the risk to children. Furthermore, there is a need to better inform parents, carers and teachers of the risk of ocular self-injury from such lasers pointers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Consumer Product Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Eye Burns / epidemiology*
  • Eye Burns / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Lasers / adverse effects*
  • Play and Playthings
  • Policy Making
  • Problem Behavior
  • Self-Injurious Behavior
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Vision Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Vision Disorders / prevention & control