Taking in a beautiful sunset is relaxing, but don’t look too long at our planet’s closest star because its rays can cause blindness and other life-changing side effects.
Solar radiation damages the retina, says Dr. Joseph Chacko, ophthalmologist at the UAMS Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute. “Sunlight damages the eye as its light is focused by the cornea and lens onto the central retina, or macula, where it causes a retinal burn, which then forms a scar,” explains Dr. Chacko. This is called solar retinopathy. However, it usually takes several minutes of gazing at the sun for its rays to cause severe damage or blindness.
To protect your eyes from the sun, never view it directly with the naked eye or with any unfiltered optical device such as binoculars or a telescope. And the sun’s rays can be the most damaging when people are taking certain medications, says Dr. Chacko.
Viewing total and partial solar eclipses can lead to serious damage as well if precautions are not taken to prevent blindness. Regular sunglasses, exposed film and even a welder’s helmet are not even safe.
Individuals can know when they have damaged their retina when they see a central blind spot in each eye’s vision or when they have reduced vision. Dr. Chacko says that they also may not be able to read as well or see people’s faces as clearly.
Dr. Chacko advises people to wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the ultraviolet rays and protect as much skin around the eyes as possible. For more information on preserving your vision, contact a doctor at the Jones Eye Institute.