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Solar Retinopathy (Eclipse Retinopathy)



What is Solar Retinopathy or Eclipse Retinopathy? 

When light enters the eye, like a camera, the cornea and lens of the eye focuses light to a point which lands on the retina. If you look directly at an object, that focused light lands on a very important part of the retina called the fovea (the fovea is responsible for central vision). Solar radiation damages the retina through a photochemical effect which may be enhanced by elevated tissue temperature.

Interesting Scientific Fact: Direct solar observation through a 3 mm pupil produces a 4 degree Celsius temperature increase, which is below thermal damage thresholds. Sustained solar viewing for more than 90 seconds through a constricted pupil exceeds the threshold for photochemical retinal damage. Solar observation through a dilated 7 mm pupil produces a 22 degree Celsius increase in retinal temperature which is above photocoagulation thresholds.


What Does This Mean for You If You Plan on Viewing the Solar Eclipse?

It means that you need to protect your eyes at all times during the solar eclipse. You should not look at the sun, even when it’s completely behind the moon (although it is theoretically safe to view the eclipse during the brief moment of “totality”, when the sun is completely behind the moon; we do NOT recommend attempting this because “totality” will only occur across a 70 mile swath across the United States and that does NOT include San Antonio).

USA map with eclipse path
Therefore, you must be certain to use solar eclipse glasses from reputable manufacturers and vendors. They should be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standards. SUNGLASSES, even those with UV protection and polarization, will NOT protect your eyes during a solar eclipse.

Top 10 Tips for Viewing the Solar Eclipse: 

1.) Inspect your solar glasses before use. If they are scratched or damaged, do not use them. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the solar glasses.

2.) Always supervise children using solar filters. Children can remove their glasses without an adult noticing which could do permanent damage to their eyes.

3.) Stand still and cover your eyes with your solar eclipse glasses BEFORE looking at the sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — NEVER remove it while looking at the sun.

4.) Do NOT look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.

5.) Do NOT look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses  — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.

6.) Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.

7.) If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.

8.) Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly (that includes the entire state of Texas).

9.) If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.

10.) Keep your pets indoors.

For Whatever Reason, I Did Not Heed the Warnings and Looked at the Sun?

Your status will change from “member of the public enjoying the eclipse” to “patient”. You may begin experiencing symptoms within 1-4 hours of solar exposure. Symptoms can include decreased vision in one or both eyes. You may have wavy vision, blind spots in your central vision or next to your central vision, light sensitivity, afterimages, or eye ache. The change in vision may be mild to severe.  You should see an ophthalmologist if you experience solar retinopathy. Corticosteroids have been used to treat acute injury, but a beneficial effect has not been proven conclusively because vision often improves spontaneously.

What’s the Most Important Take Home Message? 

An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure….wear solar eclipse glasses if you plan to view the solar eclipse. Protect your vision!