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Solar eclipse: Docs say eye damage could reveal itself later

Alexa Steinvurzel, 7, of Roslyn, left, and her

Alexa Steinvurzel, 7, of Roslyn, left, and her sister Rebecca, 9, wear protective glasses as they look at the solar eclipse during a viewing party at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

There’s an outside chance that it could take a couple of weeks for spectators of Monday’s historic solar eclipse who didn’t protect their eyes to know whether they have damaged their sight.

Eye problems attributable to the event might not be noticed for up to two weeks afterward, ophthalmologists say.

Though about a dozen Long Island hospitals surveyed Tuesday reported no eclipse watchers had come in for examination or treatment, ophthalmologists said those who watched the passing of the moon in front of the sun without protective glasses could have solar retinopathy.

Solar retinopathy is caused by harmful radiation from the sun reaching the retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eyes.

“When it hits the sun the eye is almost like a magnifying glass and the light rays are focused on the retina and it’s almost like a burn to the retina,” said Dr. Matthew Gorski, a Northwell Health ophthalmologist and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead.

Gorski said those with solar retinopathy could experience problems ranging from a temporary eye condition to full blindness.

Solar retinopathy generally “presents within the first few hours but rarely it can be delayed for several days to a week or two,” Gorski said. Although there is no treatment, “the good news is over time most patients regain a certain amount of vision,” he said.

Gorski said that what could happen with solar retinopathy depends on each individual case.

“The vision loss can range from minimal to severe loss to blinding of vision,” he said. Unless permanent blindness is involved, Gorski added, “in one to three months generally things start to improve.”

Gorski said symptoms of solar retinopathy include blurred vision, blind spots, and distorted vision in one or both eyes. No pain is associated with the symptoms, he said.

“If you’re ever having changes in vision, it’s important to see your ophthalmologist or eye doctor right away,” Gorski said.

Dr. Charles Rothberg, an ophthalmologist on the staff of Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue and president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said he examined a woman Monday afternoon who was concerned about problems with her vision after she looked at the eclipse without any protective glasses.

“There are two groups of people” when it comes to concerns about eclipse eye damage — “those people who hurt themselves and those who are worried they hurt themselves,” Rothberg said. “I saw one person yesterday who complained of burning and she said she had stared at the eclipse without glasses.”

Rothberg said the woman told him “she looked at it and then looked away” but she did not say for how long. Rothberg said he found no damage “and she was relieved.”


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