In the run-up to last August’s solar eclipse, doctors and health officials strenuously warned that no one should attempt to look at the sun without proper eye protection. The issue got some additional visibility when some of the glasses sold on Amazon were found to be fake. The problem isn’t that the sun is brighter during an eclipse, but that humans rarely have much reason to stare at our lovely ball of burning gas, and consequently don’t attempt to do so on a regular basis. But there are always people who either doubt how dangerous something is or simply never hear about it, and one such case has appeared.
As The Washington Postdetails, Nia Payne wanted to see the August 21st solar eclipse, but did not have appropriate eye protection. She glanced up at the sun for ~6 seconds when it was approximately 70 percent covered, then borrowed a pair of eclipse glasses and stared at it for another 15-20 seconds. Unfortunately, the glasses she borrowed weren’t of the appropriate type. Payne reported seeing an eclipse-shaped afterimage for several days before she went to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai.
Doctors have known for years that staring at a solar eclipse can damage your retinas and leave a permanent blind spot (hence the warnings), but Payne’s case took a different turn than most. After asking her to draw her own blind spot (above), the doctors used an imaging tool that uses adaptive optics to directly see the damage to her retina. According to Avnish Deobhakta, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Mount Sinai and co-author of the study, it’s the first time we’ve directly imaged the damage to the retina in this fashion.
“What we found is that the sun’s rays had damaged the photoreceptor layer in a very specific pattern, like a crescent,” Deobhakta said. “It really aligned with what she drew for us when we first saw her.”
Deobhakta hopes one day doctors might be able to treat or cure this kind of retinal damage, but for now, that’s impossible. According to Payne, the blind spot does not go away. It’s forced her to learn to primarily focus with her other eye, and changed how she has to perform certain tasks.
We would advise readers to take the entire incident as a cautionary tale, especially since there’s another solar eclipse coming on July 2, 2019. Payne didn’t stare at the sun for minutes at a time. She thought she was using appropriate eyewear. Keep in mind that real eclipse glasses block 99.9 percent of visible light. You shouldn’t be able to see anything but the sun through them, and the sun itself should look like a dim, orange bulb. If you glance at the sun with eclipse glasses and see anything else, it’s possible your glasses are either defective or counterfeit.