The day after the Great American Eclipse, you may be wondering: “Did I hurt my eyes?”
Eye doctors have said in the months leading up to the event that looking directly at a solar eclipse without the proper eye protection can cause damaging burns to the retina, but some people may not have gotten the message.
After the event, they could be dealing with a condition called solar retinopathy.
Solar retinopathy occurs when sunlight enters the pupil and travels through the lens of the eye onto the retina, where it burns the exposed tissue. Ultraviolet light is particularly harmful since it can cause damage to the structure of the eye.
The burn can even take on the physical shape of the eclipse that caused the damage.
If you burned your retina, according to the Vision Eye Institute, you might experience sore and watery eyes, discomfort when looking at bright lights, difficulty discerning shapes, distortion and a blind spot in the center of the eye. It can also be difficult to read.
Noticing solar retinopathy right away can be hard because it often happens without pain and the symptoms don’t show up until hours later.
There’s not a specific treatment for solar retinopathy, but recovery can happen with time. Depending on the severity of the burn, symptoms can ease in anywhere between a month and 12 months. However, if the burn is more severe and touched the macula (the functional center of the retina), it could cause some permanent vision loss.
According to Live Science, a study in Turkey after a 1976 eclipse found that any symptoms or damage still present 18 months later could last at least 15 years.
But if your eyes felt strange immediately following the eclipse, it’s not necessarily a sign of solar retinopathy. Business Insider reports that discomfort could be due to the rapidly changing light levels you experienced as you covered and uncovered your eyes repeatedly to view the eclipse.
Business Insider also reports that this eclipse could actually help doctors’ understanding of solar retinopathy, since much of the technology they use today didn’t exist the last time an eclipse passed over this much of the U.S.
If you are experiencing symptoms, you should see an eye doctor.