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Illuminating Solar Retinopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Illuminating Solar Retinopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Have you ever wondered what happens to your eyes when you look at the sun during an eclipse? You probably know that it's dangerous. But, what's the reason behind this?

In brief, it can cause a serious condition called solar retinopathy. Join us as we shed light on this mysterious affliction and provide you with what you need to know to protect your eyes.
solar retinopathy

What Is Solar Retinopathy?

Solar retinopathy is a condition that happens when the sun's rays damage the macular area of the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. 

The retina converts light into electrical signals sent to the brain, where they are processed as images. 

When the retina is directly exposed to threshold amounts of ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, the delicate nerve fibers of the retinal can burn. This will result in varying degrees of permanent, untreatable vision loss.

Solar retinopathy can happen when you stare directly at the sun for too long. Even a few seconds of unprotected exposure can be enough to cause damage. 

The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) and infrared wavelengths, which are invisible to the human eye but can penetrate the eye and burn the retina. 

The sun also emits visible light, which is very bright and can overwhelm the retina's ability to adapt. Retinal burns are rare when looking at the sun under normal conditions because, due to the brightness of the sun, a human cannot stare at the sun long enough to cause a burn.

The Main Culprit: Solar Eclipse Eye Damage

You know those weird glasses you are told to wear during a solar eclipse? Well, there is a very good reason for it. 

One of the most common scenarios in which solar retinopathy can happen is during a solar eclipse. There are no pain nerve endings in the retina so a retinal burn causes no pain.

People often gaze at the sun without proper eye protection during this spectacular event, unknowingly putting their eyes at risk. 

Solar eclipses are mesmerizing but can be quite dangerous if you don't take the necessary precautions. Because during an eclipse the sun’s brightness is diminished so one can stare for long enough duration to cause the burn.

Conjunctival Burn Symptoms 

While solar eclipses are some of the most well-known situations where solar retinopathy can occur, other potential culprits can also contribute to ocular burns. 

  • Sunbeds and Tanning Lamps

Sunbeds and tanning lamps, often used for achieving a bronzed skin tone, can emit harmful UV radiation. Prolonged exposure to these devices, especially without eye protection, can put your eyes at risk for conjunctiva and cornea burns. A retinal burn can occur if you stare at the lights long enough. 

  • High-Altitude Environments

People who live at high altitudes are exposed to increased UV radiation, as there is less atmosphere to absorb and scatter the sunlight. Over time, this continuous exposure to high-altitude sunlight without eye protection can lead to eye aging changes such as cataract and macular degeneration. 

  • Water and Snow Reflection

Water and snow are reflective surfaces that can intensify the impact of UV rays on your eyes. This reflection can cause a condition known as "snow blindness" or photokeratitis, which is equivalent to a sunburn of the conjunctiva and possibly the cornea. 

It's essential to wear sunglasses when spending time around water bodies or in snowy environments.

  • Welding Without Eye Protection

Welding is another activity that exposes your eyes to intense UV and IR radiation. Welders use protective helmets with special welding lenses to shield their eyes. 

However, if you're near welding or observing welding activities without proper eye protection, you could be at risk of welder’s burn of the cornea. Always ensure your eyes are adequately protected in such situations.

  • Medications and Eye Drops

Certain medications and eye drops can increase your eyes' sensitivity to UV radiation, making them more vulnerable to damage from sunlight. 

If you take any medications or use eye drops with this side effect, it's crucial to take extra care and protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses.
sunburn skin

What are Solar Retinopathy Symptoms?

Solar retinopathy doesn't manifest for 24-48 hours, which makes it even more perilous. 

However, over time, you may start to notice some of the following signs:

  • Blurred Vision: Your vision may become unclear or hazy.
  • Distorted Vision: Straight lines may appear wavy or distorted.
  • Eye Discomfort: If the conjunctiva and/or cornea are also burned, eyes will become painful and feel dry.
  • Increased Light Sensitivity: With conjunctiva and/or cornea burns, eyes may become more sensitive to light.
  • Loss of Color Vision: Solar Retinopathy can cause colors to appear faded or washed out.

Solar Retinopathy Treatment 

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for solar retinopathy. Damage to the retina is irreversible and cannot be repaired by surgery or medication. 

Prevention is the only strategy.

If you experience any symptoms of solar retinopathy, consult an optometrist as soon as possible. 

They can examine your eyes and confirm the diagnosis using various tests and imaging techniques, like optical coherence tomography (OCT). 

Preventing Solar Retinopathy

The good news is that solar retinopathy is totally preventable. Here's how you can protect your eyes from this condition:

  • Use Solar Eclipse Glasses

If you plan to witness a solar eclipse, ensure you have the right protective gear. Solar eclipse glasses are specially designed to filter out harmful UV and infrared rays. 

Make sure they are ISO or AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force certified for safety.

  • Don't Stare at the Sun

It may seem like common sense, but it's worth reiterating: never stare directly at the sun without proper protection. Even a few seconds of exposure can be harmful.

  • Regular Eye Checkups

Visiting your eye care professional for regular checkups will detect early signs of eye conditions that require proper sunglasses for eye protection. 

  • Use Polarized Sunglasses

What are polarized lenses, you ask? They are sunglasses that offer excellent protection against harmful UV rays. They reduce glare and provide clearer vision, making them an ideal choice for outdoor activities. Polarized sunglasses are not the proper protection for viewing a solar eclipse.

Where to Get Polarized Sunglasses for Eye Protection

Now that you know what solar retinopathy is and how to prevent it, you may wonder how to choose the best sunglasses for your eyes. 

Visit Solar Bat! 

We have over 40 years of experience designing and manufacturing high-quality sunglasses for various outdoor activities and sports. 

We are passionate about providing our customers with sunglasses that offer superior protection, comfort, and performance.

One of our main features is our polarized lenses. 

Polarized lenses have a special encased film that blocks glare from reflective surfaces, such as water, snow, or metal. Glare can cause eye strain, fatigue, headaches, and reduced visibility. 

Polarized lenses can also enhance contrast, clarity, and color perception, making your vision more comfortable and enjoyable. 

We also offer a wide range of styles and options for our sunglasses. You can choose from various frame shapes, sizes, colors, and materials to suit your preferences and needs. 

At Solar Bat, we are committed to providing our customers with durable, affordable, and stylish sunglasses.

Solar Bat also is offering AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force compliant Eclipse Glasses. After the eclipse the customer can order for only shipping and handling G15 sun lenses to interchange for years of comfortable wear.

Browse our online store today and find your perfect sunglasses!