Assessing you vision before and after the eclipse

Do you think you damaged your eyes during the eclipse?  Read this before you panic.

We’re human and our bodies aren’t perfect. Every day we have some ache or pain, and we often try to find a causal link between how we feel and what we’ve experienced. For example, my son had a cold this weekend and now my throat is feeling a little scratchy — did he give me a cold?

The same things happens with your eyes. You bump your eye against a cabinet, immediately see floaters, and think you’ve detached your retina. You hear your aunt talk about her macular degeneration shots, see similarities between her symptoms and yours, and assume your vision is declining. While some people are oblivious to changes in their bodies, others are hyper-sensitive and may forget that our bodies are in a constant state of change.

After the eclipse passes today, you or your loved ones may experience eye symptoms that you think are new, such as floaters, variability in vision or something else. In nearly all instances, these symptoms will be something that was present before the eclipse but weren’t noticed. However, if you truly did damage your eyes by staring at the eclipse with unprotected eyes, there is nothing your eye doctor can do to minimize the damage that has already been done. Any damage from solar retinopathy will either improve over the next week or it will be permanent.

Solar retinopathy – damage to retina from staring at the sun – is most frequently reported by patients who stared at a non-eclipsed sun while under the influence of hallucinogens (e.g., LSD) or while taking part in religious ritual.  Viewing a partial solar eclipse with unprotected eyes can lead to solar retinopathy, but a sideways or mistaken glance at the sun is unlikely to cause damage.  They hypochondriacs among us – and I count myself as one – may want to rigorously evaluate their vision before the eclipse arrives so that they can assure themselves that their eyes haven’t changed once the eclipse has passed.  As long as you use solar glasses to view the sun – or simply avoid looking at the sun – you should not sustain solar retinopathy.

Of course, over the next few days a small percentage of the population will experience other serious eye conditions that aren’t related to the eclipse.  If you experience sharp eye pain, significant loss of vision, a black curtain over a portion of your visual field, a large increase in floaters (some floaters are normal for all of us), repeated flashes of light in your eye, or other symptoms that are associated with a serious eye condition for which you’ve already been diagnosed – then you should call your eye doctor for guidance.

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