Doctor explains dangers laser pointers pose to pilots’ eyes

UT Health San Antonio doctor explains effects lasers can have on pilots

SAN ANTONIO – Aiming lasers at an aircraft can be dangerous for pilots and people on the ground. Recently, a Schertz man pleaded guilty in federal court to pointing a laser at a San Antonio police helicopter. The pilot managed to land safely at the San Antonio International Airport, but he was temporarily blinded.

Dr. Daniel Johnson, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at UT Health San Antonio, said although the likelihood that a laser could cause permanent damage is low, it can still have serious effects.

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"It could temporarily stunt your vision, blur your vision, give you a glare that may make it hard for you to see for a short period of time, just like a camera flash right in front of your eyes,” Johnson said.

The effects lasers have on pilots depend on the strength of the device.

“High-powered lasers can damage tissue. They can damage skin. They can damage the vision. However, most of the lasers that are readily available, laser pointers, the toys that people use, typically are below the threshold that we worry about causing permanent damage to the eye,” Johnson said.

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Johnson said damage to the eyes also depends on how close the laser is when pointed.

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