Was Anyone Blinded During The 2017 Solar Eclipse? It Could Take A While For Symptoms To Appear

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If you’re reading this story right now you should give yourself a nice pat on the back and feel really good about the fact that you have not completely failed as a human. Mazel. You have officially heeded the advice that scientists, optometrists and your mom have been instilling in you from the time you were born, which is that you should never, under any circumstances, ever stare directly into the sun during an eclipse. There are about nine and half million reasons why, but the most important of which is that you could go blind. Of course, not everyone heeded this rule — by now, most of us have seen the photo of Donald Trump doing the exact opposite of what everyone was saying when he looked up at the solar eclipse not once, but twice, without solar protective gear. And, I'm sure we all heard a friend or a co-worker lamenting they accidentally looked up at it without their eclipse glasses. It begs the question: Did anyone go blind during Monday's solar eclipse?

We reached out to Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Journal of Optometry and Professor Emeritus at the School of Optometry & Vision Science in Waterloo Ontario Ralph Chou who said he hasn't received news of anyone going blind today. Which is great news. Good job people.

Now, if you’re still seeing sun spots, don’t freak out just yet. "The most frequent symptoms are blurred vision in the center of the visual field, with near normal vision in the periphery," Mr. Chou wrote in an email earlier today.

On Monday, it was reported that it wasn’t unusual if you had a headache following the eclipse, which is attributed to a number of factors including increased sun sensitivity, tension headaches and over-exposed nerve endings. The good news is, it’s been almost a full 24-hours since the eclipse took place which hopefully means your solar headaches have subsided. If not, you still shouldn’t freak just yet.

But was anyone actually permanently affected, aka blinded by the eclipse? Possibly... but it’s highly unlikely according to science.

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In a 1999 case study, scientists and optometrists assessed visual symptoms that arose from solar viewing and found that there were 70 reported cases of visual loss that happened within two days of the eclipse. This loss, due to “abnormal macular appearance” — meaning decreased retinal function — was reported in 84 percent of patients at the time. The silver lining here though was that there were no reported cases of continued visual loss or blindness visual symptoms six months after the study was conducted.

“Our brains are wired to avoid looking at very, very bright things like the sun," Mr. Chou said in an interview with LiveScience. "The next morning, that's when you suddenly realize that part of your retina has been injured."

This particular injury whose medical name is actually solar retinopathy, happens when bright light, say from the sun enters your pupil in the front of your eye and then deluges the retina at the back of your eye. When the retina is over-stimulated by sunlight, it releases a flood of communication chemicals that can damage the retina.

According to the VisionEye Institute, the damage from solar retinopathy can occur without any feeling of pain and the visual effects are not noticed for several hours after the damage has been done. If you do notice the following symptoms, the VEI advises you to seek medical attention:

  • 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 center of your vision

Now, they say time heals all wounds, and unfortunately, in the case of solar retinopathy, time is the only remedy. The VEI says a visit to your ophthalmologist will be able to help ease the discomfort of symptoms, as well as assess the amount of damage. Recovery from solar retinopathy can take up to 12 months, depending on the extent of the damage caused by the exposure to UV rays.

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If you are having trouble seeing, Professor Chou advises that a stop by the optometrist's office is likely your best bet.

“If you believe they have injured your eyes as a result of viewing the eclipse, you should arrange to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for assessment and management as necessary,” Mr. Chou said.