How can you tell if you damaged your eyes during the solar eclipse?

Symptoms range from slight pain to permanent total blindness

DETROIT – The total solar eclipse that crossed the United States Monday came with warnings galore about not looking directly at the sun, but many people, including President Donald Trump, didn't take the warnings as seriously as they should have.

Those who looked at the sun during the eclipse might experience delayed symptoms of eye damage. Metro Detroit emergency departments and eye doctors said as of Tuesday, they haven't seen any injuries, but they're watching for problems that have occurred during eclipses in the past.

Monday's eclipse was special because the area of totality crossed America, something that hasn't happened in 99 years. But partial eclipses happen much more regularly and eye specialists have been warning of the danger they present for decades.

An editorial from a 1963 medical journal specifically identified the most commonly injured people were boys between 9 and 15 years old.

Temporary consequences

For anyone outside the total eclipse, looking directly at the sun can cause a number of different injuries.

Starting at the outermost surface of the eye, the cornea is the clear layer we see through. It can be damaged in a similar way to how skin is damaged by a sunburn.

It's common to see problems with people in the emergency room who have glanced at a welder's arc with a naked eye.

About 12 hours after exposure, victims can experience a painful, gritty feeling in their eyes that's often worse in the light.

Fortunately, the symptoms typically resolve themselves within a day.

Serious injuries

The much more serious injury doctors worry about during an eclipse is called solar retinitis, which is damage to the light-sensing surface -- the retina -- at the back of the eye.

Since the retina doesn't have pain sensors, solar retinitis doesn't hurt, but it will produce anything from a fuzzy spot in the center of vision all the way to permanent total blindness.

The loss of vision isn't immediate, but should be apparent in the first day after the exposure.

Anyone who notices a change in their vision, or their child's vision, should visit an eye doctor immediately.

Just as astronomers will study the eclipse for years, the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center will look at the potential impact by developing a case series of any patients with solar retinopathy.

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