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!

43 Comments

  • by bill Posted October 21, 2017 3:32 am

    Hello!

    I looked at the sun with (approved, verified, undamaged) protective glasses during the US solar eclipse on 21 August 2017. I only looked for a total of about 20 seconds in 5 4-second bursts over a period of ten minutes, though I did, unfortunately, hold my own prescription glasses OVER the eclipse glasses. Apparently you are not supposed to do that, according to, uh, NASA’s website.

    My vision has been fuzzy — sort of a “looking through a heat haze” effect — since then. Also, my eyes have been strained and my head has hurt (some days it’s better, some days it’s worse) every day since then. I don’t have any blind spots in my central vision. I do see after-images of light sources *very* easily. It has made watching television somewhat unpleasant.

    My optometrist saw no damage, though referred me to an ophthalmologist.

    The ophthalmologist saw no damage, though referred me to a retina specialist.

    The retina specialist did all the imaging tests (OCT, fluorescein angiogram, etc) and said he saw “no overt solar retinopathy”. His usage of the word “overt” sorta scared me! He said “I see a very, very mild blunting of the foveal reflex in the right eye, and it could be argued that there has been some minuscule damage to the outer plexiform layer, though I would not be surprised if the symptoms cleared up in one month.”

    He prescribed me bromfenac eye drops “for your mild ocular discomfort” and told me to come back in a month. I dutifully did my eye drops. I went back in a month. He looked at my eyes. He said the reflex had returned and that he could not perceive any damage on the OCT.

    He asked if I was seeing any better. I said I think maybe it’s gotten better, though maybe it hasn’t gotten *remarkably* better. It’s hard to tell! And he told me to come back in three months, so he could do all the tests again, just to make sure.

    I obsess over my vision I’d say about 3/4 of my waking hours, these days. I have read a lot about retina damage. I keep seeing articles and journals that say the damage is temporary and clears up in between 3-6 months in “most cases”.

    I just don’t know what the nature of the “temporary” damage is. Like, what is damaged? Is it inflammation? Is it possible for there to be damage that an ophthalmologist — AND a retina specialist! — both can’t see even on their fanciest tests? That retina specialist had me in his office for about three hours to do all those tests!

    The ophthalmologist who referred me to the retina specialist told me that there’s a chance I’m imagining my symptoms. He told me, “I believe your symptoms are real, though there’s no damage that I can see, so there’s also a chance your imagination is exaggerating the symptoms.”

    It’s been almost two months since the eclipse. I don’t believe my imagination is exaggerating the symptoms, though what do I know?

    The ophthalmologist also told me that my eyes were dry. Since stopping the Bromsite (after one month, as per the retina specialist’s orders), my eyes have been incredibly red and dry. I’ve been using artificial tears and it is only making them redder and dryer. I am confused. Maybe the dry eyes are contributing to my vision problems / light sensitivity! I don’t know.

    Ah, I meant to just type a couple of words, though here I went ahead and typed all this.

    Uh, I believe my question was . . . do you think I’m going to be OK?

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted October 31, 2017 6:54 am

      From what you have written, I think you have nothing to worry about. Please do not look at another eclipse again.

  • by Diane Posted August 22, 2017 2:28 pm

    While viewing the solar eclipse I had the proper eye protection on, but I took them off so my friend could look through them. For a split second my eyes made contact with the sun but I looked away as soon as I did that. Do I have anything to worry about.

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 8:05 am

      Nothing to worry about.

  • by Antonio Posted August 22, 2017 9:49 am

    hey today i looked at the eclipse i didnt have any eclipse glasses but i grabbed 3 pairs of sunglasses and put them over my eyes, I looked around 3 times each being around 2-3 seconds so i would say together 9 or 10 seconds. will this make me go blind because im really scared.

    • by Antonio Posted August 22, 2017 9:50 am

      and i only had 3 pairs so i used all just so it would be more protection. and another question. I have been hearing things about a “naked eye” if i have sunglasses on, is it still considered a naked eye?

      • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 8:04 am

        Yes it is still considered naked. Normal sunglasses are not full protection against an eclipse.

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 9:25 am

      No it wont but it is important not to do this again.

      • by Antonio Diaz Posted October 6, 2017 12:44 pm

        Ok thanks.

  • by Yogita Posted August 22, 2017 8:01 am

    So I need help. Today during the eclipse I bent down to pick up the newspaper that had fell down from the table. As I was getting up my eyes directly fell on the eclipse for a few seconds. I could have seen the half sun clearly. I looked away as quickly as I could. But when I looked away I started seeing very dark and black and blurry and dull. And after a couple of seconds my vision came back to normal. Will this leave to permanent damage

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 8:03 am

      No it will not. A few accidental seconds is not a problem.

  • by Ash Posted August 22, 2017 4:43 am

    I looked at the sun for about 10 seconds mabye a tiny less right before a solar eclipse but the eclipse had not started yet. I looked away and my eyes hurt and my eyes feel tired and I have a headache and my vision is slightly effected a tiny bit blurry. Should I be worried? I know I shouldn’t have done it but you can’t focus on the past. I’m just scared I ruined my eyes.

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 27, 2017 7:52 am

      Ash looking at the sun is probably worse than looking at the eclipse, as there is much more light. You probably have not done anything serious, just do not do it again. Looking at the sun hurts because we should not look directly at it.

  • by Maria Wey Posted August 21, 2017 12:27 pm

    I looked out the window today to see if the sun was shining in and there is was in my eyes… I did this to see if I needed to cover the window from the eclipse tomorrow because of my kitties. Gads, I did not realize that checking to see if the sun was out there would hurt me. Just from the eclipse.

    • by Maria Wey Posted August 21, 2017 12:31 pm

      What I am trying to say is that I looked out to see if it was there this time of day – time that the eclipse will be tomorrow – for my kitties to look at, and I inadvertanty looked at it with my eyes. It was just enough to notice that it was there. So what if you look at it by accident like this for a few seconds, will it harm you? My vision seems to be fine. But because it was there, I am covering up the window with black plastic bags so that my poor kitties don’t get hurt 🙁

      • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 8:02 am

        I am sure your kitties will be fine. Humans look at eclipses as they are so novel.

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 8:01 am

      Quick glimpses are Ok. Staring at it is the problem.

  • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted August 12, 2017 12:41 pm

    Please do not worry, this will not have caused any problems.

  • by Balakrishna Posted July 26, 2017 1:08 pm

    Has anybody recovered from this. Today I was diagnosed with this.. Central vision has a glowing revolving sun like thing… Doctor said it doesn’t seem to be permanent and asked to revisit after 3 months…
    Any help is appreciated

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted August 12, 2017 12:48 pm

      This will depend on how long the exposure was for. There is nothing you can do about it and even visiting the Dr in 3 months will not achieve anything. It will probably settle in your case.

  • by Rein Posted May 9, 2017 8:53 pm

    Hi, I need your help.
    When I was 13 I joined a stupid contest who looked at the sun the longest. Now, after that I got a small yellow spot in my vision. It has been 15 years now, it’s still there and I don’t know how to remove that. Please help

    • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted May 17, 2017 12:39 pm

      Unfortunately this is solar retinopathy. You are very lucky that it is only a small spot. There is nothing with todays technology that can be done. You could try taking Lutein as a supplement. I doubt this will recover any vision but at least stop anything from getting worse. Never look at the sun.

  • by Marvin Posted October 9, 2016 8:37 am

    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

    • by admin Posted October 12, 2016 9:09 am

      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.

  • by Tina Posted August 11, 2016 11:41 am

    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!

    • by Jim Posted August 18, 2016 2:05 am

      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.

      • by Tina Posted September 19, 2016 11:05 am

        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?

        • by admin Posted October 2, 2016 9:19 pm

          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.

  • by Amin Posted March 9, 2016 5:27 pm

    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 ?

    • by admin Posted April 23, 2016 2:36 am

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

      • by Nudnik Posted August 5, 2016 3:59 am

        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?

        • by Jim Posted August 18, 2016 2:11 am

          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!

          • by Jessi Posted September 13, 2016 6:01 pm

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

          • by admin Posted October 2, 2016 9:28 pm

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

  • by Derek Posted January 27, 2016 5:29 am

    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?

    • by admin Posted April 23, 2016 2:33 am

      unfortunately this can be permanent but will usually not get worse now.

    • by Joe Posted June 8, 2016 10:04 pm

      How long did u stare at the sun for? Also, was it partly cloudy?

  • by Chris Posted August 12, 2015 9:52 pm

    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?

    • by admin Posted December 31, 2015 12:52 am

      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.

  • by William Fletcher Posted December 23, 2012 3:17 pm

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

    • by Jim Posted December 26, 2012 9:58 am

      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!

      • by Michael Posted August 22, 2017 2:03 pm

        When you refer to often recoverable vision loss due to relatively insignificant damage, do you mean that the damage is so slight that it repairs/heals, or that the eye somehow tends to adjust and the individual doesn’t notice the effects anymore?

        Someone at my workplace made the unfortunate decision to glance at the sun for about 3-5seconds. Not sure if that’s enough to cause irreversible damage, but so far no major vision issues have been noticed so hopefully that’s a good thing.

        Thanks in advance.

        • by Jim Kokkinakis Posted September 17, 2017 9:12 am

          Could be either Michael. In the end it will not be progressive, so if you do not notice the vision issue, even if there is one, then it doesnt matter. Hope that makes sense.

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