The sun warms our entire solar system and delivers waves of electromagnetic rays directly to earth in the form of solar radiation. The potentially damaging rays are especially dangerous during an eclipse. For people trying to watch the eclipse through unprotected eyes, this radiation can enter the pupil, where it then becomes focused through the lens of the eye, and cooks the exposed tissue of the retina.This “Solar Retinopathy” destroys the rods and cones of the retina, creating a small blind area. While this damage can be done by the sun on any day, typically, people simply don’t stare at the sun. During an eclipse, many people are tempted, or led to believe that certain glasses make it safe, to look at the sun for longer periods of time.
The biggest threat from solar retinopathy is that there are no initial feelings of the burn. Much like looking at a welders torch, the eye is slowly burned without any feeling of pain and the visual effects may not be noticed for several hours after the burns are actually incurred. According to the Vision Eye Institute, some of the following symptoms may occur in the hours after exposing your retinas to UV rays:
- Eyes begin to water and feel sore
- Feel discomfort looking at bright lights
- Have difficulty discerning shapes, especially detailed objects
- Objects can look distorted
- There’s a blind spot in the centre of your vision
It you experience any of these symptoms after looking at the sun, see your GP, optometrist or another medical practitioner as soon as possible.
AllOnGeorgia asked Dr. Eric Helwig, an optometrist at North Georgia Eyecare about the potential vision dangers of the solar eclipse.
AOG: What precautions should the public take during the eclipse?
Dr. Helwig: Stay inside.
AOG: If outside during the eclipse?
Dr. Helwig: it can take seconds up to a min to get solar retinopathy… I have a few patients that have it and can be serious… just don’t think the public really truly knows the associated risks … I’ll be inside.
Helwig goes on to say that he will determine which glasses were most effective AFTER the eclipse event as many people have acquired glasses that may or may not be equipped to protect the eye from the sun.
For sufferers of the burns, there is no single treatment other than simply waiting it out and enduring the pain. While an ophthalmologist may be able to help ease the pain brought on by the ailment, the eyes can take up to a year to completely heal and some effects can last much longer.