Retinal injury from a laser skin resurfacing device during medical tourism: a public health concern

BMC Ophthalmol. 2024 Mar 26;24(1):134. doi: 10.1186/s12886-024-03383-z.


Background: Laser skin resurfacing is a popular cosmetic procedure for noninvasive skin rejuvenation. Since health insurance plans often do not cover these types of procedures, patients often pay out of pocket. Consequently, there is an incentive to go abroad, where prices are more affordable. However, practitioners in destination countries may lack rigorous training on laser safety, regulatory oversight, or licensing, especially on devices used for "cosmetic" procedures. In certain cases, this can lead to tragic outcomes, especially when underqualified practitioners operate medical-grade laser devices.

Case presentation: A 29-year-old woman suffered a retinal burn from a handheld Q-switched neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd:YAG) laser pulse device used to perform skin resurfacing treatment at a medical spa in Vietnam. The patient was not adequately informed about the potential risk to her vision and was not provided with any eye protection. A momentary, unintended laser exposure to the patient's right eye led to irreversible vision loss due to a macular burn. This incident caused immediate pain, followed by the sudden appearance of floaters, along with a retinal and vitreous hemorrhage. Despite treatment with off-label bevacizumab for the development of a choroidal neovascular membrane, vision remained at the level of counting fingers because of the presence of the macular scar.

Conclusion: When utilizing laser-based devices, it is crucial to employ safety measures, such as the wearing of safety goggles or the use of eye shields to protect ocular tissues from potential damage. The growing availability of cosmetic laser devices presents a substantial public health risk, because numerous operators lack adequate training in essential safety standards, or they neglect to follow them. Furthermore, patients seeking services abroad are subject to the regulatory practices of the destination country, which may not always enforce the requisite safety standards. Further research is needed to determine regional and global incidence of laser-related injuries to help direct educational and regulatory efforts.

Keywords: Chorioretinal scar; Laser injury; Neovascular membrane; Retina; Safety; Vitreomacular traction.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Eye Injuries* / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Lasers, Solid-State* / adverse effects
  • Medical Tourism*
  • Public Health