A solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon that occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, partially or completely blocking sunlight for a few minutes. Although tempting, watching an eclipse can lead to eye problems.

Even brief exposure to intense sunlight can cause eye damage, pain and blurred vision. It’s always best to avoid viewing a solar eclipse without proper eye protection, as this can lead to problems such as “eclipse blindness” or even destruction of cells at the back of the eye. This article explains the causes of dry eye or eye pain after an eclipse, other symptoms of eye damage, and available treatment options.

Why are the eyes dry after an eclipse?

Exposure to direct, intense sunlight can damage the outer layer of the eye. This transparent outer layer is the cornea, and damage to this tissue can lead to a condition called solar keratitis, also known as UV keratitis. It causes burning-like pain or discomfort in the eyes. Looking directly at an eclipse can also damage the retina, a light-sensitive tissue structure at the back of the eye. Doctors then speak of solar retinopathy.

The role of the retina is to send light through the eye to the brain as visual information, which the brain processes, allowing people to see. Intense exposure to sunlight can damage the cells of this tissue and cause pain and vision problems.

Tips for watching a solar eclipse safely:

View the eclipse only with safe solar viewing glasses.
Make sure they are ISO 12312-2 compliant.
Do not use torn, scratched or damaged sunglasses.
Don’t look at the sun through a camera lens.
Consider using an indirect observation method instead.
Observe the eclipse when the moon completely obscures the sun.

Symptoms of eye damage after an eclipse

If direct observation of an eclipse has damaged a person’s cornea, it may take a few hours or days for symptoms to appear.

Symptoms of solar keratitis can be as follows

eye pain
sensation of a foreign body stuck in the eye
a slight decrease in vision
excessive production of tears
light sensitivity
Retinal damage caused by looking directly at the sun usually causes symptoms a few hours after the event. These symptoms are usually present in both eyes. However, they can be more severe in the dominant eye.

Symptoms of solar retinopathy can be the following:

blurred vision
a blind spot at or near the center of vision
atypical color perception, called chromatopsia
headache in the front of the head
light sensitivity
seeing distorted objects, called metamorphopsia
the perception of objects smaller than they are, called micropsies.
In some cases, retinal lesions cause no symptoms, and the doctor may first notice them during a routine eye exam.

Causes and risk factors

The main risk factor for eye damage when viewing an eclipse is looking directly at the sun without protective gear. Although the front of the eye can shield itself from sunlight and absorb some of it, too much exposure can cause damage. Due to the intensity of the sun’s rays, research suggests that staring directly at the sun, even for 10 seconds, can cause damage. The risk increases with the duration of sun exposure.

Anyone exposed to direct sunlight can suffer eye damage. However, the following factors may increase the risk of solar retinopathy:

be young
taking medicines that can damage parts of the eye, such as hydroxychloroquine
taking medicines that can make the eyes more sensitive to light, such as tetracyclines, a type of antibiotic, and psoralens, a medicine that treats skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis
psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Treatment and care

If a person has concerns about their eyes after seeing an eclipse, it is best to consult an ophthalmologist, optometrist or eye specialist, who can assess the extent and location of the damage.

Damage to the outer layer of the eye tends to heal on its own within 72 hours. Treatment aims to facilitate this healing process and may include the following

a topical ointment
artificial tears
topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
pain medication
topical antibiotics to prevent infection
avoiding wearing contact lenses for a period of time to allow the eye to heal
the use of cold compresses on the eyes.
If a person sustains retinal damage after seeing an eclipse, treatment and management usually involves waiting for the retina to heal.

For many people, normal vision recovers within 6 months. However, any vision changes, such as blind spots and distortions, still present after this time will likely be permanent.

In summary

It is always necessary to use protective equipment when observing an eclipse. A person can get dry eyes if they have looked at the sun without proper protection. If a person experiences dry eyes or eye discomfort after watching an eclipse, it is best to contact an eye doctor. They may recommend treatments such as ointments or eye drops to help heal the damage caused by observing an eclipse. Although many cases go away on their own, some people may experience permanent changes to their vision.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.