Did the eclipse damage your eyes? Here are telltale signs — and why it’s such a risk

Millions of people are catching a glimpse of the solar eclipse — but the spectacle can lead to eye damage if you’re not careful.

That’s because looking at the sun without eclipse glasses can burn your retina, leading to serious complications with your vision, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

For this reason, NASA and medical experts urged people looking at the sky on Monday, April 8, to wear eclipse glasses or a “safe handheld solar viewer.”

“Even though this is an exciting and rare event, you don’t want to damage your vision for the rest of your life by not protecting your eyes,” Dr. Nicole Bajic, a surgical ophthalmologist with the Cleveland Clinic, said in a news release.

How can you tell if you have eye damage?

But if your eyes hurt after the eclipse, how do you know if it’s a sign of something more serious? The eclipse may cause discomfort — but likely won’t since the retina doesn’t have pain nerves.

Instead, signs that you may want to look out for include blurred vision, headache, sensitivity, distortion, discolored vision or a blind spot. Experts say those symptoms could start appearing within about four hours.

“Many people recover after three to six months, but some will suffer from permanent vision loss, in the form of a small blind spot and distortion,” the American Academy of Ophthalmology wrote on its website in 2023.

Instead of having a black spot in their vision, a person might not see their facial features clearly in a mirror or might see a newspaper without words on it, Space.com reported in 2017.

“For the most part they have damaged photoreceptors that just aren’t capable of doing more than just registering maybe the presence of light but can’t really build up enough information for them to be able to see clearly,” Ralph Chou, professor emeritus at the School of Optometry & Vision Science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, told Space.com.

Experts encourage people to contact their doctors if they experience changes in their vision after the eclipse.

Why does the eclipse pose risks?

Though people may think the moon will fully block the sun during an eclipse, rays of light can still harm you.

“Even a few seconds of viewing the sun during an eclipse can temporarily or permanently burn the macula,” doctors wrote on the Journal of the American Medical Association website. ”Once retina tissue is destroyed, it cannot regenerate, resulting in permanent central vision loss.”

A person’s retina can be damaged within about 100 seconds, though times vary depending on the intensity of the sun and a person’s eyes, according to NASA.

“Even when 99% of the sun’s surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent sun is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn,” NASA wrote on its website. “Note, there are no pain receptors in the retina so your retina can be damaged even before you realize it, and by then it can be too late to save your vision.”

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