Looked at the Total Eclipse Without Glasses? Here's the Total Problem With That

Eye Health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws JD, Founder

Yesterday’s eclipse was an incredible sight to see. But despite several warnings not to stare directly at the sun and take the proper precautions when viewing the eclipse, some people could not resist the temptation to just look without any protection.

As a result, there have been complaints of eye pain and vision blurriness.

If you are experiencing this, you may have solar keratitis, also called ultraviolet keratitis.This eye condition is essentially a sunburn of the cornea (the front part of the eye).

Additional symptoms include swelling, light sensitivity, twitching of the eyelids, gritty sensation in the eye, temporary loss of vision and seeing halos.

And solar keratitis is something you have to be proactive about even though the eclipse is over.

“Damage to the eyes can occur following exposure to sunlight reflected by snow, ice, water, or sand,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. “Snow blindness is a type of ultraviolet keratitis that occurs when UV rays are reflected by snow and ice. It is more common near the North and South Poles or in mountainous regions where the air is thinner.”

The good news is solar keratitis is usually a temporary condition that lasts 48 hours or less.

You also need to be mindful of solar retinopathy (also called photic retinopathy), which is retinal damage caused by sun exposure.

“The retina is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of our eye,” the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports. “Light rays are focused onto the retina through our cornea, pupil and lens. The retina converts the light rays into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to our brain, where they are interpreted as the images we see. A healthy, intact retina is key to clear vision.”

So as you can see (pun intended), the retina is a precious part of your eye you want to protect. Solar retinopathy usually causes irreversible damage. What’s particularly scary about this condition is since the retina has no pain receptors, you will likely not experience any pain and think nothing is wrong. “It can take a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred, “according to Prevent Blindness.

If you have any concerns after viewing the eclipse, visit an eye doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will be able to determine if there is any temporary or permanent damage.

So how can we be proactive?

  • In general, never look directly at the sun.
  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats in the sun. Added bonus is you will help protect your skin from harmful sun rays that may lead to skin cancer. If you are skiing, wear snow goggles. The Cleveland Clinic recommends sunglasses or goggles that block or absorb 99-100% of UV rays if you spend time outdoors. Wrap-around sunglasses or those with side panels are recommended to block all harmful UV rays. Glare from the snow, sand, or water can cause burns to the eyes even if it is cloudy or overcast.
  • Use proper eye protective equipment if you are exposed to UV radiation on the job.

Overall, you can also help protect your vision with a healthy diet. “Certain vitamins and minerals found in food may play a role in preventing two common causes of vision problems: cataracts—cloudy areas in the lens of the eye—and age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” Harvard Health reports.

Make sure you are getting an adequate intake of the following nutrients, which may help prevent vision loss:

  • Zinc. This essential trace mineral “plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Zinc is highly concentrated in the eye, mostly in the retina and choroid, the vascular tissue layer under the retina. Impaired vision, such as poor night vision and cloudy cataracts, has been linked to zinc deficiency,” the American Optometric Association says. Eat lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, chickpeas, spinach and chicken to get more zinc in your daily diet.
  • Vitamin A. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth. Click here for a list of delicious, healthy foods that are rich in vitamin A.
  • Vitamin C. This vitamin helps support the health of blood vessels in the eye. It may also help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD). To get more vitamin C in your diet, eat oranges, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and tomatoes.  
  • Vitamin E. The American Optometric Association reports that this vitamin reduces the progression of AMD and cataract formation. Foods rich in this vitamin include almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, red peppers, mango, avocado, swordfish and peanut butter.
  • Lutein, zeaxanthin. These are two carotenoids and antioxidants that concentrate in eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association, “[l]utein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye.” Many fruits and vegetables contain these antioxidants, including cherries.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are great for proper visual development and retinal function. Food sources include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, halibut, salmon, sardines, tuna and walnuts.

We are now in back to school season, and before you know it we will be taking winter vacations to ski or go to the beach. So, remember to protect your eyes when you are outdoors.

As always, eat a healthy diet to help prevent eye diseases and protect your overall health. Do not assume that if you do not have symptoms, you do not have any issues you need to address. If you have any concerns, visit your doctor and feel free to ask any questions.

Your vision, and so much more, is worth it.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.   


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