Anonymous Teen 'Blasts Away' Crucial Retina Tissue Staring Into Laser Pointer

A teen boy suffered permanent vision loss after shining a laser pointer directly into his eyes.
Brad Bergan

Those of us who didn't listen as kids when told not to stare at the sun probably aren't reading this on a digital screen.

In modern times, lasers can have the same effect.

An anonymous teenager from Ohio stared directly into a laser pointer for several seconds while playing a "shooting game" with friends, according to a recent medical report published in the journal Retinal Cases & Briefs Reports.


Teen 'blasts away' retina staring into laser pointer

Physicians documented the case of the anonymous teen who stared for several seconds directly into a laser pointer while playing some kind of "shooting game" with friends.

The laser pointer device was a toy designed for exercising pets. While such devices are typically advertised as low-power, but the evidence is growing that retinal damage is linked to staring into them, said researchers, reports Science Alert.

"Increasing availability, higher output powers, and development of devices emitting in the blue and green wavelengths are thought to be attributable," explained the team — under the leadership of the first author and medical student Carol Vitellas from Ohio State University (OSU), in the medical report.

"Though commonly believed to be safe, even brief laser-pointer exposure to the eye can lead to permanent vision loss, with children being particularly at risk," he added.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the teen did. While he only gazed directly into the retina-burning laser for a few seconds, he experienced vision loss for several minutes immediately following the incident. He described the initial symptom as a visual effect of bright light.

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Blurred vision retained five months after laser incident

Five months had passed since the incident when the boy — who saw continually-blurred vision with partial loss of vision in his right eye — finally went to see the OSU ophthalmologist Frederick Davidorf.

When he did, the boy said he couldn't see specific letters when he read text with his right eye at times (with the left eye closed). This is when tests revealed a diminished visual acuity in his right eye, with normal acuity retained in his left.

Another doctor visit six months later saw a marked improvement to normal levels in both eyes — but this apparent recovery doesn't account for the harm done inside the teen's eyes.

Laser Damage Right Eye
High-res image of lesions A through E with small sites of cone loss (B, C, and D) in the teen's right eye. Source: Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. / Ohio State University

Entire regions of eyes 'blown away,' full recovery not likely

With help from a high-resolution optical scanning system, Davidorf observed the damage done to the boy's right-eye retinas — and entire regions of light-sensitive photoreceptor cells (called cones and rods) were clearly "blasted away" by the laser pointer, said Davidorf, according to Science Alert.

"There's just nothing left there," said Davidorf. "The affected areas are devoid of cones."

Understandably, the boy was diagnosed with macular laser burns in both eyes, since no other conditions could offer an explanation for the boy's loss of vision.

The high-powered optical system used to scan the eyes of the boy is called an Adaptive Optics-OCT-Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope (AO-OCT-SLO), and lets researchers count separate cells that constitute the whole retina.

While it appears the boy's ocular injury may be slowly improving — the research team doesn't think he'll ever see a full recovery. At best, this serves as a gentle reminder to everyone of something that doesn't go without saying: don't look directly into lasers.

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