Parents warn about the dangers of laser pens

William Donnelly with mum Celine. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
William Donnelly with mum Celine. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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The mother of a south Yorkshire schoolboy who was temporarily blinded has issued a stark warning to parents about the dangers of laser pens.

William Jackson, 10, was left with permanent scarring in his eye after he started to complain of pains in his left eye.

His parents Celine and Ben Jackson bought the laser pens as stocking fillers for Williams and his two brothers for Christmas.

But on Boxing day, after using one of the devices, William started to complain of an uncomfortable sensation in his eye.

Within hours his eyesight began to quickly deteriorate and his parents feared their son would be completely blinded.

He was checked by an optician and referred to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital where consultants found inflammation on the macula, the vital central area of the retina at the back of the eye.

The Jackson family, who live in Sheffield, are backing consultant ophthalmologists at the Hallamshire and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, who have completed the first study of its kind into paediatric patients seen for injury to their eyes triggered by novelty laser products.

Experts claim that the lasers in the device can be much more powerful than labels on their packaging suggest.

Mrs Jackson, 42, a trainee health visitor, said: “He complained of having something in his eye the day after we gave him the laser. By luck we were going to the opticians and told them about William’s complaint.

“When they looked at his eye they could see it was inflamed and damaged and referred him to hospital.

“The damage was really bad.

“William was aware that he had a blot on his eye and there was a constant block in his vision, it did panic him.

“His eye tests were showing that his eyesight was deteriorating every few hours.

“The laser had a little head on it and the doctor thought he could see the pattern in the scarring on William’s eye.”

William’s parents feared the youngster would be blinded and at the time doctors were unable to tell them whether there would be any permanent damage as a result of the exposure.

The youngster was prescribed steroids which reduced the swelling inside the eye.

His sight has now recovered but Mrs Jackson warned there is likely to be permanent scarring.

She added:“We don’t know what the implications are for the future.

“It could deteriorate in the future and could possibly affect his ability to drive, we just don’t know. We felt dreadful.

“It didn’t feel like any more than getting them a toy.

“Thinking about it now I might as well have handed him a cigarette lighter.

“When we handed the lasers to the boys we said not to shine it in their eyes, like I would if I had had given them a torch, but I had no idea how dangerous they were.

“These lasers may look like fun but they are not as innocent as they look.

“I find it baffling that they are so easy to buy and the warnings are easily missed.”

The study carried out by the Hallamshire and Sheffield Children’s Hospital spanned an 18-month period and all of the patients were from the city, aged eight to 15.

Another child who took part - an eight-year-old boy - has been left with permanent laser scars, which he can see constantly at the centre of his vision.

In his case, the laser beam was flashed in his eye for no more than a few seconds.

The youngster’s vision has been dramatically reduced as a result of the incident.

Mr Fahd Quhill, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Hallamshire, said: “Misuse of these products can lead to irreversible damage to the eye.

“The retina is very sensitive and once damage is done, it is irreparable.

“This can impact on children’s futures with normal activities being compromised such as reading, recognition of faces, driving or playing sport.”

The former Health Protection Agency, now part of Public Health England, advised that products sold to the public for use as laser pointers should generally be restricted to class 1 or 2 devices, with laser power less than 1 milliwatt, and be accompanied by clear safety advice.

John O’Hagan, of Public Health England, said: “For many years we have been concerned about the availability of these lasers.

“The markings on the devices and the packaging are often misleading.

“Output powers may be considerably higher than marked.

“There are European proposals to control the sale of handheld laser products that may cause injury.”