Woman’s Retina Shows Crescent-Shaped Burn After Looking at the Eclipse Without Eye Protection

Patient’s retina after viewing eclipse without proper protection.
Courtesy JAMA Ophthalmology/Mount Sinai New York Eye and Ear Infirmary

If you didn’t quite trust what doctors have been saying for years—that the sun can wreak havoc on the cells of your body—a couple of new case studies should make you believe it. The first, in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, is a patient who looked at the August 2017 eclipse without proper eye protection. Doing so literally left a crescent-shaped area of destruction on her retina. The other “study,” a Twitter-user’s personal story, shows dramatic pictures of what the sun can do to your skin if you don’t protect it.

The first patient, written up by doctors from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, is a woman in Staten Island who looked at the eclipse with no protection for a few seconds. She then borrowed some glasses that she thought were protective—it turned out they were not—and looked at the eclipse for another 15-20 seconds. A few hours later, she noticed problems with her vision, including blurred vision and color distortion. Part of her visual field also became distorted, which included a persistent black crescent-shaped spot, mostly in her left eye.

She ended up at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, where doctors did some high-tech scans of her retina—the back of the eye, which has light-perceiving cells. Her doctors also had her draw a picture of how the distortion in her visual field appeared to her.

It turned out that both the patient’s drawing and her retina looked a lot like the eclipse. In New York, the moon covered about 70% of the sun, and you can see this in her damaged retinal cells. (See the image below.) She was diagnosed with solar retinopathy, which the authors write is “rare form of retinal injury that results from direct sungazing and is usually reported following eclipse viewing.” Doctors had never seen such a striking example of it until now, and the patient’s experience gives massive validation to doctors’ warnings to wear protective glasses during an eclipse.

“So far, it’s a nightmare, and sometimes it makes me very sad when I close my eyes and see it,” the woman told CNN. “It’s embarrassing. People will assume I was just one of those people who stared blankly at the sun or didn’t check the person with the glasses.”

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SOURCE: Forbes, Alice G. Walton