For those of you who were lucky enough to view this once in a life-time event, we hope that you all did so safely from behind the proper protective eye wear. The sun is normally not healthy to look at on a normal day and is deceivingly even less safe to look at during an eclipse. With the moon passing over the sun, it makes it appear less bright but does not actually make it any more safe to look at – especially for extended amounts of time. UV is deceivingly dangerous since it isn’t a wavelength of light we can see.
Certain wavelengths are absorbed by our cornea and lens, but the UV (specifically long wavelength) that penetrates paste those structures and on to our retinas is what causes the damage that can occur when looking at the sun. The same way our skin burns when we are over-exposed to UV, it can also burn the retina. The only way to protect our eyes is to ensure the glasses are ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. Applying sunscreen to the eyes will not provide any protection – it will actually do more harm than good as it might cause a mild toxicity burn to the cornea when applied. When we get sun burned, our skin is able to regenerate and heal from the UV damage. Unfortunately the same thing does not occur with the retina. Once the retina has been burned, the damage is permanent. The extent of damage varies depending on how long the retina was exposed to the UV for.
How our vision is affected can range from full blown loss of vision (in the burnt area – usually a spot or “crescent shape” depending on when the exposure occurred), blurred vision, and distortion in specific areas of vision. Immediately after the exposure, you may experience head aches, light sensitivity, and similar visual disturbances as noted previously. The head aches and light sensitivity will dissipate over time, but the visual effects are more likely to be permanent.
If you suspect that you were sold fake eclipse glasses or may have over exposed yourself to the sun, please see your local optometrist. The next solar eclipse isn’t until 2024, so we hope there are less cases of solar retinopathy next time!