Solar retinopathy or sun damage to the eyes – a case report

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A case report titled, “Acute Solar Retinopathy Imaged With Adaptive Optics, Optical Coherence Tomography Angiography, and En Face Optical Coherence Tomography”, appeared in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, where the authors describe the damage caused by the sun’s rays to the eyes of a woman who viewed the recent solar eclipse without adequate eye protection. This type of eye damage is termed acute solar retinopathy.

According to the doctors in New York, the woman in question came in within three days after the solar eclipse on 21st of August. She had viewed the eclipse without using the protective eye glasses. She said she had seen the sun partially covered with the moon (70 percent coverage) several times briefly for around 6 seconds without the glasses. She also viewed the eclipse with protective glasses for 15-20 seconds. In a few hours after the eclipse, she developed blurred and distorted vision and impaired color vision. She saw a black spot in the central part of her vision in her left eye as well.

Her eyes were viewed with the help of optics scanning light ophthalmoscopy and en face optical coherence tomography. An Amsler grid tests showed a yellow white spot in the centre of her left retina. Optical coherence tomography angiography was normal in both eyes. Images showed photoreceptor mosaic disturbances in the foveal cone region. Microperimetry of the retina showed the central region of the affected eye was completely damaged.

Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, a retina surgeon at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York explained that there was a crescent shaped damage over the retina of the left eye that was the exact image of the sun at the time of the eclipse. He added that this was one of the most severe cases of eye damage after the eclipse that they had seen. A total of 22 patients had come in with eye damage he said. They all complained of blurred vision and of these only 3 had some amount of retina damage. The other two patients had mild damage to their retina that healed, Deobhakta said. It was this young woman who has shown persistent damage.

According to eye experts, the few number of people who experienced eye damage after the eclipse shows that the public education campaign that explained people not to look at the eclipse without protection, was mostly successful. A whopping 215 million people has witnessed the eclipse. They add that minor injuries should have recovered by now. Any residual damage still would mean a permanent damage to vision. In this case, the central spot on the woman’s left retina persisted even after six weeks of the eclipse.

Authors conclude that acute solar retinopathy is a rare form of eye damage that is a result of toxicity caused by light waves including the excess short-wavelength visible light along with heat damage that comes from near-infrared radiation. They add that young people are particularly vulnerable and they should be warned about the dangers of sungazing directly without specific eye gear and protection.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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