If there was one thing to know about the 2017 solar eclipse that hit on Monday, August 21, aside from what time it was visible in your area, it was that you needed to protect your eyes to prevent temporary or permanent damage while sun got obscured by the moon. While many people used certified protective glasses, others saw it via selfie mode on their phones, binoculars or used cereal boxes to keep their eyes safe.
Even though it was drilled into us, don't look at directly at the sun, don't look at directly at the sun, you'll burn your eyes! on the days leading up to the celestial event, can you guess what happened when the total solar eclipse finally came around? It was kind of like when you see someone you know walking toward you and you tell yourself 11.5 times not to be awkward, but you end up blurting out "gruel!" a la Cady meeting Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls.
"One misconception about eclipses is that it is safe to stare at the sun because it’s more comfortable to do so when compared to a typical sunny day," Dr. Janelle Routhier, Senior Director of Customer Development at Essilor, tells Bustle. "Looking directly at the sun, for even a short time, can cause permanent harm to structures in the back of your eye and that damage is irreversible."
Basically, for many of us, the total solar eclipse went a little like this:
Even (and not surprisingly) Trump stared at the eclipse with naked eyes. And naturally, people are now freaking tf out and wondering if they now have eclipse blindness.
People Who Looked At The Eclipse Without Glasses Are Panicking
But Even Those Who Wore Protective Glasses Are Freaking Out
How To Know If You Actually Damaged Your Eyes
Oddly enough, the eclipse actually makes it easier to stare at the sun for longer. "Looking at the sun can cause solar retinopathy which occurs when bright light from the sun floods the retina," Routhier says. "It is caused by staring at the sun for too long. Most people can’t stand to look at the sun long enough to cause damage, but the eclipse (partial or total) makes it more comfortable to stare for a longer period of time. This condition can also be referred to as “eclipse blindness,” and its effects can be permanent."
So what do you feel when your eyes are damaged? It could very well be nothing. "When your eyes are over-stimulated by sunlight, they release a flood of communication chemicals that can damage the retina," Routhier says. "This damage is often painless as you don’t have pain receptors in that tissue, so people don't realize they’re damaging their vision."
When You'll Realize You Damaged Your Eyes
Not only could damage be painless — you might not even realize it after the fact either. "You may not immediately see the damage that is caused to your eyes either — but UV radiation can damage the outside structure of your eye," Routhier says. "Brightness and intensity of light damages the focal point of your eye, which sometimes can be reversed but many times is permanent. Your eye doctor can identify the signs of sun damage by examining your eye."
What If You Have A Headache Right Now?
Some people are also complaining (aka panicking) about headaches post-eclipse, and while it could be a coincidence, it could be from bright light exposure too. "There are a variety of causes for headaches including neck and eyestrain," Routhier says. "If you are suffering from a headache after looking at the eclipse, it could be a coincidence, it could be from having your head in an upward position for an extended period of time, or it could be from exposure to extreme bright light if you weren't wearing proper eye protection.
The Best Thing To Do If You're Experiencing Pain Right Now
While it looks like you're not alone (thanks, Twitter!) if you're worried you caused damage to your eyes after staring at the eclipse without proper eye protection, Routhier recommends visiting your eyecare professional immediately.