When Should I Worry About...

What to Know If Cloudy Skies Led You to View the Eclipse Without Glasses

April 11, 2024 - Todd Ackerman

Droves of Houstonians turned out to take in the solar eclipse Monday, but overcast skies caused a lot of staring up in search of the sun — and may have lulled some into thinking that they could watch the spectacle without special eclipse glasses.

Could this have damaged their eyes?

"It's never safe to look at the sun, even on a cloudy day," says Dr. Rahul Pandit, an ophthalmologist at Houston Methodist. "I always say that if it takes you one hour to sunburn on a sunny day, it will take you one hour on a cloudy day — and if it takes a couple minutes to burn the unprotected retina during an eclipse on a sunny day, it'll take a couple minutes on a cloudy day."

Nevertheless, whether because of the cloudy conditions or just recklessness, it appears many didn't heed widespread warnings to wear solar eclipse glasses for Monday's rare astronomical event. Online searches for eye damage and eye discomfort spiked following the eclipse, according to Google Trends.

Dr. Pandit said that it's rare to have vision damage in such cases, but if you're experiencing symptoms after viewing the eclipse, don't ignore them.

What are the symptoms of eye damage from an eclipse?

Dr. Pandit added that eye pain is not actually a symptom of solar retinopathy, as there are no pain receptors in the retina. He said people usually have symptoms within two or three days.

As provided by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, here are the key symptoms to look out for:

  • Blurry vision
  • Headache
  • A blind spot in your central vision in one or both eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Distorted vision, in which a straight line looks bent, or a door jamb looks curvy
  • Changes in the way you see color, known as "dyschromatopsia"

Eye damage is uncommon following a solar eclipse. For instance, an estimated 150 million Americans viewed the 2017 total solar eclipse and 100 documented cases of eye damage were documented across all of America and Canada, according to published reports.

How is solar retinopathy treated?

There is no treatment for solar retinopathy. But if you're experiencing difficulties with your vision, Dr. Pandit recommends making an appointment to see an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist can determine if the symptoms are caused by solar retinopathy or another medical condition.

The ophthalmologist will take a scan of the eye to see the extent of any damage. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 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.

Dr. Pandit notes that quickly glancing at the eclipse is unlikely to really cause problems, but adds "I wouldn't take any chances with your retina."

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...