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How to tell if you have eye damage after viewing the eclipse

<i>Scott Olson/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>People view the start of the total eclipse on the campus of Southern Illinois University on April 8
Scott Olson/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
People view the start of the total eclipse on the campus of Southern Illinois University on April 8

By Ashley Strickland, CNN

(CNN) — The total solar eclipse has come and gone after creating a celestial spectacle Monday in the skies over Mexico, the US and Canada. But some people may be experiencing eye discomfort, rather than awe, in the aftermath.

You might be wondering if maybe your eclipse glasses were fake. Perhaps you forgot to slip them back on as the first bit of sunlight reappeared after totality. Or you noticed your child, friend or family member looking up at the sun without putting on their glasses.

Looking at the sun without proper eye protection, such as certified eclipse glasses or solar viewers, can result in solar retinopathy, or retinal damage from exposure to solar radiation. While the highly specialized cells inside our eyes don’t feel any pain, the rods and cones and photochemical reactors become inflamed and damaged when looking at the sun, said Ronald Benner, an optometrist and president of the American Optometric Association.

During the 2017 total solar eclipse, a young woman was diagnosed with solar retinopathy in both eyes after viewing the eclipse with what doctors believed were eclipse glasses not held to the safety standard.

There is no treatment for solar retinopathy. It can improve or worsen, but it is a permanent condition.

Post-eclipse eye damage symptoms

Symptoms of eye damage after viewing the eclipse without proper protection can take hours or days to manifest. They include loss of central vision, altered color vision or distorted vision.

“Damage from the eclipse is unlikely to cause pain or discomfort in your eyes because the retina does not have any pain nerves. Instead, you would notice visual symptoms within 4-6 hours. But some may notice symptoms after 12 hours,” said Michelle Andreoli, an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, in an email.

If you notice any symptoms or experience eye discomfort, make an appointment with a health care provider or eye care specialist immediately, experts said.

“For most people, it’s an alteration of color vision,” Benner said. “The next morning, colors just don’t look right, or it may be bleached out it or just kind of hazy all the time. For others, it may be that they actually have holes in their vision.”

If the damage occurs in the center of someone’s vision, it can affect the ability to read or recognize faces, Benner said.

It’s a bit like the effect that occurs when we see a camera flash go off, which can distort our vision for a few minutes before it goes away. But the intensity of solar retinopathy causes permanent damage that isn’t immediately apparent. Overnight, the cells can die, and they won’t be replaced.

The changes in a person’s vision depend on the type of damage that is done, and these can occur in one or both eyes.

“The retina is an extension of the brain, so it’s actually neurological tissue, and when you damage that, it doesn’t always come back,” Benner said. “If you damage one cell, that cell may never be the same. But if you damage a group of cells, then you’re going to end up with blotchy vision, like having someone dab oil on your windshield. If you just kind of damage them and they don’t completely die, then color vision is going to be altered. What can you do about it? Absolutely nothing other than prevent it.”

Benner also suggests that parents talk with their kids about what the symptoms of eye discomfort may feel like if they viewed the eclipse together, especially if there are any concerns that their children may have removed or peeked around the eclipse glasses. It may be difficult for children to articulate what they’re experiencing, like not being able to clearly see out of one eye, Benner said.

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