On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement cautioning parents that laser toys may be harmful to children. Spinning tops, toy guns and hand-held "light sabers" can all cause serious injuries if used without proper care.

"When operated unsafely, or without certain controls, the highly-concentrated light from lasers-even those in toys-can be dangerous, causing serious eye injuries and even blindness," the FDA wrote in the statement. "And not just to the person using a laser, but to anyone within range of the laser beam."

To address the potential danger, the agency has put together a guidance document teaching consumers how to minimize the risks attending the popular toys. In it, they answer the most common questions about the safety of the toy as well as lasers in general.

 "A beam shone directly into a person's eye can injure it in an instant, especially if the laser is a powerful one," says Dan Hewett, health promotion officer at FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

An "unnecessary" increase in power, along with a substantial drop in price, has made the toys more and more risky over the past years.

"Low-cost, compact laser pointers used to be quite low in power, but, in the last 10 years, many laser pointers have increased in power 10-fold and more," he continues. "The fact that lasers can be dangerous may not be evident, particularly to the children who use them as toys, or to the adults who supervise them."

FDA's Checklist for Laser Safety

  • Never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone, including animals. The light energy from a laser aimed into the eye can be hazardous, perhaps even more than staring directly into the sun.

 

  • Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface

 

  • Remember that the startling effect of a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents when aimed at a driver in a car or otherwise negatively affect someone who is engaged in other activity (such as playing sports).

 

  • Look for a statement that it complies with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations) Subchapter J on the label.

 

The agency also warns that while laser injuries can be serious enough to cause permanent eye damage, they generally do not hurt, and can sometimes go unnoticed for days and weeks. Over time, such injuries can cause vision to deteriorate completely.

To learn more about laser safety, and how you can protect your children, consult the FDA's guide to safe play with laser toys.