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24

Solar Retinopathy – Do NOT look at the sun!

Why not?

– Because you can cause serious damage to your eyesight.

Now you might think that people wouldn’t look at the sun would you, but you would be wrong – many people look up into the sky during an eclipse of the sun thinking that just because the light is poor the sun won’t do any damage, and this is simply NOT the case!

There DEFINITELY IS enough sunlight during even a total eclipse to cause damage – permanent damage – to the eyes, especially if as is often the case eclipse watchers insist on staring at the phenomenon for long periods.

It isn’t the heat of the sun that does the damage – it’s the light!

Light is focussed through the eye lens which concentrates that light at the back of the eye on the macula, an extremely light sensitive area of the retina. The light from the sun contains very harmful rays that the retina just cannot cope with!

Retinopathy is a general medical term used to describe any inflammation or degradation in the retina, usually caused by diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The term solar retinopathy is reserved to be used when the inflammation is caused by exposure to sunlight (and some other serious harmful light conditions).

What happens if you do look at the sun too long?

Fortunately any vision loss is usually recoverable, although it can take from a few months to a year before everything is back to normal.

Symptoms experienced obviously include loss of vision and can be measured during conventional eye tests, but also a “blind spot” – known medically as a scotoma – may form. The formation of a blind spot can be thought of as being produced on the retina in a similar way as a magnifying glass is able to produce a burn mark on a piece of paper if focussed correctly.

The question people often ask is “can looking at the sun cause blindness?” – and the answer of course is not really. Staring at the sun is not painful but it is difficult to do for long periods.

Treatment

There isn’t really any – but remember that any loss of vision is reversible; this means the important ingredient in the treatment protocol consists of big doses of patience!

And during the patience period maybe a thought or two should be given to the old adage “prevention is better than cure”.

How should you look at an eclipse?

The best thing to do of course is not look at it at all!

After every eclipse, even though warnings have been broadcast, there are always instances of mild to severe cases of “sun blindness”. Inevitably there are also assessments made and reported in medical journals

A good way to experience an eclipse safely is to watch it on TV.

If there isn’t a TV station broadcasting the event then why not make a simple pin-hole projector with a couple of cards. If you need help then do an internet search and you’ll find plenty of ideas.

Happy eclipse watching – just be careful that’s all!

About the Author

Dr Jim Kokkinakis (Optometrist) graduated in 1983 from the Optometry School University of NSW. He is currently a Senior Lecturer there and regular speaker to both Optometrists and Ophthalmologists in Australia and Internationally. He has a specialist clinical practice in the Sydney CBD with interests in Eye Strain, Computer Vision problems, Treatment of Eye Diseases and complex Contact lens Fittings.

Comments (24)

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  1. William Fletcher says:

    The thing i dont understand is that it causes permanent damage but vision is recoverable, that makes no sense

    • Jim (http://www NULL.optometrist NULL.com NULL.au) says:

      Hi William, you are right in a way. The article is a little ambiguous. What we are trying to say is that in many cases any perceived vision loss is recoverable as the damage done was not significant. This occurs in most cases. Unfortunately there are quite a few cases of irreversible damage as well. This normally occurs to people that persist in sun gazing – a very stupid thing to do!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi there!
    I looked at the most recent solar eclipse (March 20th), without proper pretection. I looked at it for about 3 seconds, probably because I couldn’t see anything due to the heavy clouds, so I didn’t think anything of it. You weren’t able to see the sun at all when the eclipse was going on. I was very foolish, I know. Should I be worried or seek an eyedoctor to be sure everything is in order?

    • admin says:

      Sorry for the late reply. If you have not noticed anything already then you have nothing to worry about. If there was a problem there is nothing you can do about it anyway. Do not do this again obviously.

  3. Derek says:

    Many years ago I stared for too long at the sun.
    It left a mark in the very center of my vision.
    It looks like a shimmering diamond in the very center of everything I look at.
    Is there anything that can be done to remove it?

  4. Amin says:

    I looked at the solar eclipse this morning… n right i think my eye vision is kind of different… everything around me looks too bright… n colour of thing i see is kind of different too… so.. what happened to my eyes ? Is it just my feeling or there is something wrong with my eyes ?

    • admin says:

      Armin never look at the sun or an eclispe. It is still too early to know if there is anything permanent.

      • Nudnik says:

        If you stared at the sun and got a bright blind spot in your center vision that didn’t go away fairly quick how long until you would know the damage Is permanent?

        • Jim (http://www NULL.optometrist NULL.com NULL.au) says:

          I would think after a week or so you will be left with a subtle disturbance to the vision that moves as you move your eyesight. DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!

          • Jessi says:

            You said after a week if the eye spot does not go away is permanent. Can laser surgery help with this problem?

          • admin says:

            No laser burns further tissue so in the context of a solar burn to the retina it will make it worse.

  5. Tina says:

    Hi,
    I was taking my little one (almost 2 years old) to the daycare this morning (8am). He was sitting in his stroller and when we came around the corner of our house i bent down to get our sunglasses from the pocket under the stroller. After fumbling a minute i rise and see that the sun is directly in front and my little one staring right at it. He has very big round brown eyes. How likely is it that he may have damaged his sight permanently? He is so small and can’t tell me if he is having problems. I have been searching the net all day and came across this article and noticed there was a “recent” reply on the comments so I am giving it a go 🙂

    Is it common for kids to look at the sun? And if they by accident glance at it when scanning the sky for something else how likely is damage?

    Are childrens eyes more susceptible to sun damage than adults?

    My child got his sunglasses but I could not find mine so I got the sun in my eyes all the way to the daycare which is a 10min walk. I accidentally looked at the sun not only once but around 4-5times with just a 1sec glance each time since the sun was straight ahead and at head-level. Have I damaged my eyes permanently? My eyes seemed dry, tired and slightly out of focus one hour later, I do not think i have any blind spots but i do notice alot of tiny floting specs/dots and floaters when looking at a bright area or at the sky. They may have been there all along, but I have not noticed them before.
    Also colors seem less vibrant but it might be my imagination.

    Is the chance of eye damage largely redused by looking next to the sun or is this just as bad?

    Is it onetime incidents like this that cause most damage or is it sun exposure over time?

    Sorry for all the questions, I am a very curious person! 🙂

    If you see this and reply, thank you so much for your time!

    • Jim (http://www NULL.optometrist NULL.com NULL.au) says:

      A split second look at the sun is unlikely to be an issue. What we want to try and avoid is staring for many seocnds at the sun. This will burn the macula and leave some residual vision damage.

      • Tina says:

        Thank you so much for replying! I did not see this until now.
        May I ask one more question? On a partially cloudy day is it damaging to view the sun through the clouds with sunglasses on? I am asking because I was out for a walk today and was looking at the clouds covering the sky and what I thought was the moon. I was looking at it for a long time (probably a minute) and suddenly the clouds dissipated and i saw the strong light coming through and I realised it was the sun.
        It really did look like the moon behind hazy clouds and I thought the sun was lighting it up.

        Should I be worried?

        • admin says:

          There is obviously nothing you can do now, but you are always better protected by not looking directly at the sun, even through the clouds.

  6. Marvin says:

    Hi, I am currently 21, and here’s my story:-
    When I was 12-13 I used to look at bright lights from vehicles, streetlights etc(i dont know why). I started having teary eyes and got my first spectacles at 15 (power -1.25D).I still have the same power and desperately want to get rid of the specs.
    Please tell me, is it because of the lights that got me constant power?
    is it reversible?
    and how?
    p.s. please do not tell all the laser surgeries
    Thanks in advance

    • admin says:

      Your vision issue is very minor in the whole scheme of things. If your vision has not got worse from 15, it is actually very lucky as it normally does till 25 or so. This small prescription has nothing to do with looking at street lights, I can assure you. There is nothing you can do to reverse the vision at this stage. Often it self corrects when you get into your 40’s though.

  7. Gamer13455 says:

    Hi I have a question. Today I was wearing my UV 400 sunglasses and I was trying to see where the sun was because I was worried I may have looked at it. I found it and looked for a few seconds I’m not sure exactly how long but I’m pretty sure it was short. See I have extremy bad OCD which is why I had to look for the sun to ease my mind but then when I found it its added more problems. Will I be okay?

    • admin says:

      You must NOT look at the sun period! If you have OCD I understand the difficulty you have but it would be wise to seek some sort of help to stop this specific behaviour. Whether you have suffered any permanent damage is not relevant because you now cannot turn back the clock. What you can do is NOT do this again. Looking at the sun can cause severe vision loss.

      • Gamer13455 says:

        Okay but I’m freaking out man! I know it was dumb I honestly do but I can’t help it. This OCD is hard to control and right now its an uphill struggle to get legitimate help. In regards to this damage being irrelevant its not to me. I know you’ll say see an optician/optometrist but I can’t get my mum to do it because I’ve already seen one for another bloody OCD related thing. To clarify I was inside a window between me and the sun (partially covered by a building) wearing the UV 400 glasses. Less than 5 seconds tops I’m sure I looked and not continually staring. I know about AMD‚ Retinal damage etc. I see white spots ocassionally when I look quickly up or down or sideways. Lasts a second or less and I’m at my wits end. I’m sorry to be so out there but Im not well‚ really not well not just OCD. Any form of answrer in regards to my question of the white spots/AMD Sun stuff would be appreciated. I’m honestly at the end of my teather please I’m sorry but please!

        • admin says:

          The symptoms you describe are NOT sun damage. They are either called flaoters or “flying gnats”, which are observaed in specific light conditions and are just the blood cells moving around in the vessels of your eyes (this is healthy).
          The bigger issue now is that even if you settle this in your mind find something else to delve in without appropriate help. This is not the right spot to try and solve these issues. I understand that OCD is very difficult to live with but for your own sake please seek help.

          • gamer13455 says:

            Thank you‚ it does ocurr a lot during the day like a shower of white spots for a second. So no Sun damage? Phew thank you so much. You are right I know and I’m sorry for bringing it up its just I am currently not being given ocd therapy and its very hard. I won’t look at the sun anymore ever! But honestly I really appreciate your help here. Also I live in UK and the CAMHS young mental health service aren’t very quick with referrals. I wish you well and thank you once more you have no idea how important this is to me.

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