Most laser pointers available for purchase today are solid state diode lasers. The brightness of the light from these small lasers is greater than that of the sun, even at a large distance.
Class 3a laser pointers, when viewed briefly without optical aids, are unlikely to damage an individual's eyes unless one overcomes their natural "blink aversion response" and stares into the bright laser light.
Class 3b and 4 lasers of up to 1000mW or more are being purchased on-line and are being used by people unaware of the dangers presented by these class of lasers. These lasers are a permanent hazard to eyes and skin, and can start fires. They should not be used for 'presentations' (e.g. Powerpoint presentations).
For many years laser pointers have been used with confidence for highlighting presentations. The laser pointers had limited power output measured in 1 to 5 milliwatts (mW). These pointers were relatively safe.
For these lasers (i.e. less than 5mW) a person’s eyes are exposed to a momentary sweep of the light from a laser pointer, this may result in temporary flash blindness. This is a bright dazzling flash that is likely to cause distraction, temporary loss of vision in the affected eye, and possible after-images. This can be dangerous if the exposed person is engaged in a vision-critical activity such as driving, operating machinery, playing sports, etc.
If you are accidentally exposed to a diode laser pointer and experience pesistent after-images or have difficulty reading you should seek medical attention. Additionally, please contact your local health authority to report the incident.