The website PreventBlindness.org, an organization committed to education around blindness and "bringing Americans to eye care," has published a handy guide to safely viewing a solar eclipse and what it can potentially do to your eyes if they aren't shielded by the proper protection. As PreventBlindness.org explains, looking at a solar eclipse too long can cause "solar retinopathy," or retinal burns that destroy the cells that help you see. Unfortunately, the damage occurs with no pain, due to the fact that there are no nerve endings in that part of your eyes, and it can take "a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred."
All of which sounds absolutely terrifying, an information cocktail that seems like a surefire rocket fuel to the planet Hypochondria. Still, you can never be too careful, especially if you're already experiencing discomfort in the eyes. These are the specific symptoms PreventBlindness.org stipulates that you should look out for:
- Loss of central vision (solar retinopathy)
- Distorted vision
- Altered color vision
The site recommends that if you experience any of these symptoms after viewing a solar eclipse, you should immediately seek care from a licensed professional like an optometrist.
Now, it's not a total "you're going blind" sentence, as one 1999 study in the United Kingdom showed following an eclipse. Of 45 patients with possible solar retinopathy who reported eye problems, 12 later reported that their vision had returned to normal six months later. However, the counterpoint to that is the case of Louis Tomoski, a Portland man who looked at an eclipse in 1963 with his naked right eye. He has been partially blind for the last 54 years, according to local news station KPTV.
“Oh 20 seconds probably, that’s all it took,” Tomososki said. “I’m glad I didn’t go 40 seconds, it would have been even worse.”
So if you feel you've damaged your eyes, get a professional opinion. Don't wait. And during the next eclipse, maybe watch the livestream, if you can instead.