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Doctors dealing with at least 160 Canadians suffering eye damage possibly linked to looking at the eclipse

By Christl Dabu

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Eclipse watchers were warned of the dangers of looking directly at the sun ahead of the rare celestial event on April 8.

Nearly a month after the total solar eclipse, at least 160 cases of eye damage have been reported across Canada.

“There’s a fascination element to it and you can’t help but look, so that is a problem,” Dr. Mark Eltis, president of the College of Optometrists of Ontario, told CTV News. “And also even the glasses that were safe in theory, some of them, we don’t know about the quality of manufacturing.”

The rays aren’t any stronger during the eclipse than it would normally be, and people usually would find the sun too bright to look at, Eltis said, but some may have stared at the sun directly to witness the phenomenon. During the eclipse it gets dimmer, so the pupil dilates, he added.

“So you’re not only looking at the sun but you’re opening up the defences, if you will, to the rays … to go into the back of the eye and cause more damage,” Eltis explained.

Most areas in Ontario saw only a partial eclipse because they weren’t in the path of totality, which may also be a factor. Experts said 100 per cent totality, when the moon completely blocks the sun, is the only time it’s safe to look at the sun without eye protection.

This meant more people would’ve been exposed to the sun’s direct rays if they didn’t use the recommended certified eclipse glasses, handheld solar viewers or solar filters during the partial eclipse.

The cities that were in the path of totality largely saw cloud cover, and the use of eclipse glasses likely helped limit the number of eye complications reported, the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) said.

As of April 26, the OAO said it received 118 cases of reported eye complications since the April 8 eclipse. The problems included inflammation of the cornea, dry eyes and solar retinopathy.

While inflammation of the cornea usually heals within a few days, solar retinopathy can cause permanent vision loss in extreme cases, an OAO spokesperson said.

“The severity of cases depends on which part of the retina is affected and how long the patient stared at the sun,” the OAO told CTV News Toronto in a statement last week.

In Quebec, 45 cases of eye injuries possibly linked to the eclipse were reported as of April 29. The government said optometrists in the province reported cases of keratitis, solar retinopathy or keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

“It is important to note that there may be an underestimation of cases. Since the data collected by optometry clinics is on a voluntary basis, there may be a delay in reporting cases and cases do not necessarily present themselves in optometry clinics,” Marie-Pierre Blier, spokesperson for Quebec’s ministry of health and social services, said in an emailed statement translated from French to CTV News.

New Brunswick was one of the provinces that had no reports of eye damage. The province had a picture-perfect total eclipse on April 8 with lots of direct sunrays before and after totality, and blue skies through the day instead of cloud cover seen further west. Nova Scotia also had no reports of eye damage.

“I really wanted to make sure that there was no fear around this event, that people didn’t miss out on this incredible event that’s not going to happen for another 55 years in New Brunswick,” Dr. Alexis Keeling, president of the New Brunswick Association of Optometrists, told CTV News. “But we wanted to make sure the community in the province, everyone, was armed with education and knowledge they needed to be safe.”

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