Suppose you watched the eclipse, outdoors, with no eye protection.
How do you know if something’s wrong? (Asking for a friend, of course.)
Dr. Tony Huynh, an ophthalmology specialist with Pacific Medical Centers, has some answers. The following are his responses to common questions patients might have, submitted via email to The News Tribune.
Q: What are some of the potential symptoms or warning signs of eye damage?
A: The most concerning injury surrounding watching an eclipse improperly is injury to the retina, the delicate inner layer of the eye wall.
If this part of the eye becomes damaged, a person can suffer from blurred vision, decreased color vision, blind spots (typically in the central vision), distorted vision, and headaches.
Q: Do symptoms of eye damage occur suddenly, or over time? Can those symptoms get worse over time, if they aren’t treated?
A: If the retina is damaged from overexposure to the sun, it can lead to what is known as solar retinopathy. This condition typically causes visual impairment very soon after the exposure.
Depending on the extent of exposure, the symptoms may or may not resolve. The condition can lead to related complications, which can potentially then lead to more damage to the retina and increased loss of vision over time.
There is no effective treatment for solar retinopathy, so the best solution is prevention.
Q: Was eye damage as much of a risk for people outside of the totality zone as those within? I didn’t go to Oregon, so I’m good, right?
A: The risk to viewers outside of the totality zone may actually be higher than that of those in it.
The reason is that viewers in the totality zone have a short period of time where the sun is completely blocked by the moon. These viewers had an opportunity to view the eclipse briefly without eye protection.
Those outside of the totality zone did not have this opportunity and thus should have worn protective eyewear during the entire event to prevent damage to their eyes.