University of Waterloo’s optometry Professor Ralph Chou answered our questions about eye health following the Great American Eclipse. After the eclipse, many Americans who watched the celestial event unprotected complained about vision issues.
Prof. Chou explained that long-term damage from a solar eclipse is very rare and occurs under certain conditions. He noted that one needs at least 12 hours to know if their eyes were affected.
If you just caught a glimpse of the eclipse without protection, the chances of permanent eye damage are very low. Moreover, if you watched the eclipse through a smartphone camera, there is no danger since the eye wasn’t exposed to direct radiation. A camera will only render what its sensors can perceive and that is no danger to the human eye.
If you forgot to use filters or protective eclipse glasses and stared at the total eclipse the risk of damage is relatively high. You should wait for 12 hours to see any changes in your vision. You might notice when you wake up the next day that your vision is not as sharp as it used to.
If there was damage, you can experience blurred vision, multiple spots on the eye, or just one spot in the center. The spots may be blurred or very very clear. The symptoms largely depend on the type of injury at the back of the eye.
Vision can be restored over several months to a year, but in 50% of cases, vision loss is permanent.
Chou recommends seeing an optometrist rather than an ophthalmologist if you suspect your eyes have been compromised. An optometrist will tell you faster if there is any damage than an ophthalmologist. But if there is eye damage, only an ophthalmologist can tell you what to do next.
The professor noted that wearing sunglasses or staying indoors will not help the eyes heal. These are just ways of lowering the discomfort caused by the eye lesions while the patient recovers.
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