Which penlight do you use? Incandescent or LED?


I'm just curious on what you guys are using for your physical assessment. I would always hear this debate on which penlight is better and sometimes they make comments that the other is actually harmful.


1. Better visualization of colors when assessing body tissues. (e.g. throat, eyes, etc.)

2. Not harmful when used repeatedly in the eye.

3. Drains the battery faster.

4. Bulb gets busted easily when dropped.


1. Inaccurate color rendition especially in body tissues. (e.g. can't tell if jaundice or degree of erythema)

2. Some says ( I actually have not researched if there is ) that it is harmful if repeatedly used in the eyes.

3. Battery life longer.

4. Bulb won't break unless you hammer it.

Personally I am using the Incandescent one because I bought it cheap from Energizer.



30 Posts

I'd go for the incandescent one, but I'm old-school.. :p


CraigB-RN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care, Emergency, Education, Informatics. Has 40 years experience. 1,224 Posts

LED and I got mine at a conference, so I didn't pay retail. But mine is color corrected and it puts out perfect white light.

Spritenurse1210, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med/Surg. 1 Article; 777 Posts

Take the LED light and shine it in your own eye. Is it comfortable? I've done it and boy howdy did it hurt my eyes. I like the German reusable penlight. It is darn near indestructible and cheap in the long run. All I have to replace are batteries.



Specializes in SICU. Has 1 years experience. 7 Posts

LED: lightweight, tough, reliable.


Dalzac, LPN, LVN, RN

Specializes in CCU,ICU,ER retired. 697 Posts

I was always partial to the free ones LOL But the one I bought was incandescent



Specializes in ICU. Has 2 years experience. 41 Posts

Honestly, I have one of each. I work in neuro, so you need a good one to assess pupils. I usually only use the LED one on pts who are intubated/sedated/etc to get a better assessment on someone who can't talk to me. I would never shine that LED light in someone's eye who is awake and conscious... that would be cruel.

murphyle, BSN, RN

Specializes in Emergency, Critical Care (CEN, CCRN). Has 4 years experience. 279 Posts

I have two: the big fiber-optic illuminator head that fits on my Welch Allyn otoscope/ophthalmoscope set (lab use only), and the little pocket LED light I carry in the department. The overhead lights in our EC are so bright that a plain incandescent penlight won't put out enough light to produce any kind of pupillary reaction. Most drug-company "cheapies" I've seen are pretty dim to begin with.

As for LEDs being harmful to eyes, you'd need a much more powerful light source than anything in a pocket penlight, and you'd have to be shining it under very precise focus in the exact same spot for hours on end to cause a corneal or retinal burn. The harm, such as it is, is that an awake patient in a dim room (such that the pupils are naturally dilated) might yell at you for shining a perceived bright light in their eyes unexpectedly. (This is also why, unless you have severe cataracts, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will turn down the power setting on the slit-lamp and ophthalmoscope. Full power in a normal, diagnostically dilated eye is acutely uncomfortable.)

313RN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Neuro ICU. 1 Article; 113 Posts

My SIL is an Opthamologist. When I had this question she told me incandescent, the LED was too powerful and would cause discomfort.



34 Posts

I use an LED and when I check pupil response I just don't shine it straight into the eye. I use the edge of the beam or hold the light at an angle so it doesn't focus on the patients fovea centralis. If it does leave a bright spot on their retina it will be in their peripheral field where it won't bother them much.



3 Posts

I use the LED penlight. The brighter white light is better for me to use when doing pupillary assessment on my patients. The LED light in the penlights are not the high powered light that can cause harmful effects to the patient. The incandescent light do not last very long and the brightness of the light fades very quickly. When you are doing pupillary assessment you move the light source from the side of one eye to check the pupil reaction to the light. You don't shine the light source straight on from the center of the patient's eye. For consciousness patients, you would ask them to look straight ahead at an object across the room; this typically will cause the pupils to dilate, then move the light source toward the side of one eye while the patient continues to look straigt ahead. As a healthcare professional, you would let your patient know what you are going to do and what to expect before you do it.

As well, I have a product that I think the nurses on the site will love. It is every healthcare professional dream come true. It is 2 products in one; It is a combination Pen/Penlight with a pupil gauge. You never have to have 2 separate products again and this would make puipl assessment and documentation of your findings quite easy. It is light weight, has a bright white LED light, replaceable batteries, the black ink is refillable, and most of all it looks just like a pen. No one would know that you are carrying two functional products in one. I have one and I really like it. Let me know if you are intrested in obtaining one.


Specializes in ORTHOPAEDICS-CERTIFIED SINCE 89. Has 30 years experience. 6,011 Posts

I just got out of the hospital last Sunday. Believe me the LED hurts like all heck.

I had a concussion and they checked my neuros every hour for 2 days. Do not use an LED for pupil response.

It's fine to do a patient check in a darkened room, but PLEASE have compassion for your patient's pain and have an incandesceant light for pupillary response.