Enjoy last night’s solar eclipse? How to tell if it could have PERMANENTLY damaged your eyes – as social media users complain their retinas were ‘boiled’

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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It was dubbed the biggest astronomical event of the decade. 

An estimated 32million people enjoyed one of the most spectacular sights visible from the Earth, as a solar eclipse swept across North America on Monday.

Videos shared on social media showed people watching the greying sky to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon which left only the outer atmosphere of the sun visible, briefly turning the outdoors dark in daytime. 

But without proper precautions, like special eclipse glasses, spectators could have permanently damaged their eyes, experts warned. 

‘My eyes are now boiling and my neck is suspiciously sore,’ one X user admitted in  Manitoba, Canada. 

An estimated 32million people enjoyed one of the most spectacular sights visible from the Earth, as a solar eclipse swept across North America on Monday. Above, people view Monday’s solar eclipse from Times Square in New York on April 8, 2024

Videos shared on social media showed people watching the greying sky to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon which left only the outer atmosphere of the sun visible, briefly turning the outdoors dark in daytime. Pictured, people use protective glasses to observe the eclipse at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia

Videos shared on social media showed people watching the greying sky to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon which left only the outer atmosphere of the sun visible, briefly turning the outdoors dark in daytime. Pictured, people use protective glasses to observe the eclipse at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia 

'My eyes are now boiling and my neck is suspiciously sore,' one X user admitted in Manitoba, Canada. Others complained of 'sore eyes', with Google searches trending steeply upwards after the event

‘My eyes are now boiling and my neck is suspiciously sore,’ one X user admitted in Manitoba, Canada. Others complained of ‘sore eyes’, with Google searches trending steeply upwards after the event

Others complained of ‘sore eyes’, with Google searches trending steeply upwards after the event. 

According to NASA, your retina ‘can be damaged even before you realize it and by then it can be too late to save your vision’. 

‘Even a few seconds of viewing the sun during an eclipse can temporarily or permanently burn the macula,’ said Johns Hopkins ophthalmologists Neil Bressler, Jun Kong and Fernando Arévalo ahead of the solar eclipse. 

‘Once retina tissue is destroyed, it cannot regenerate, resulting in permanent central vision loss.’

Considered one of the most vulnerable regions of the retina, the macula plays a key role in discerning details like written text.

The result of damage to the macula can be uncanny: seeing one’s own face as blank in a mirror or being unable to make out words in a newspaper, as if it were blank.

All it takes is about 100 seconds of exposure for solar radiation to cause damage to a person’s retina, although times will vary based on the intensity of the sun, which can vary by time of day and geography, and the preexisting condition of a person’s eyes.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommend concerned individuals look out for ‘visual symptoms within four to six hours’ or even the day after the solar eclipse.

Some may also notice signs after 12 hours. 

Symptoms of injury commonly include headaches, blurred vision, a ‘blind spot’ in one or both eyes, eye sensitivity or visual distortions.

Those distortions can be particularly unusual, making objects appear smaller than they actually are, or creating funhouse twists or warps to your central vision.

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. This illustration shows the moon's shadow on April 8, which moved across the face of the Earth

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. This illustration shows the moon’s shadow on April 8, which moved across the face of the Earth

April 8: This colour coded map shows the path of totality as a dashed line in deep pink. It's here where the whole of the sun was blocked by the moon. Further out are areas that saw a partial eclipse. Here, the percentage of the sun blocked in these colour-coded areas is given

April 8: This colour coded map shows the path of totality as a dashed line in deep pink. It’s here where the whole of the sun was blocked by the moon. Further out are areas that saw a partial eclipse. Here, the percentage of the sun blocked in these colour-coded areas is given 

Fortunately, they can improve over time.

‘Many people recover after three to six months, but some will suffer from permanent vision loss, in the form of a small blind spot and distortion,’ according to the AAO.

However, roughly half of those diagnosed with ‘eclipse blindness’ will recover their vision in full after six months, said Dr Ralph Chou, an associate professor in optometry at the University of Waterloo. 

‘You just end up having to wait it out and that’s the really unfortunate part about it,’ he added.

‘The typical person who’s been injured, is going to wait six to 12 months before they know what their ultimate status is going to be.’

Dubbed the ‘Great American Eclipse’, Monday marked the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the world since December 2021, and the first seen from the US since August 2017.

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon and the sun line up perfectly and the moon is close enough to us to cover the whole of the sun, from our perspective. 

Cloudy skies, however, prevented spectators in the UK from seeing a partial eclipse, where a little bit of the sun is covered by the moon.

Many across the country, equally, would have been unlikely to see the historic event had it been clear.  

Simon Partridge, a forecaster at the Met Office, said: ‘The chances are most of England and Wales probably wouldn’t have seen it anyway.’

He added that outside of the northwest of Scotland, the eclipse would have been ‘very, very small and probably not actually noticeable’ even if clouds had not obscured it.

Dubbed the 'Great American Eclipse', Monday marked the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the world since December 2021, and the first seen from the US since August 2017. Pictured, eclipse viewers took to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to watch the city descend into darkness

Dubbed the ‘Great American Eclipse’, Monday marked the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the world since December 2021, and the first seen from the US since August 2017. Pictured, eclipse viewers took to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to watch the city descend into darkness

In 1999, there were 14 reports in the UK of damaged eyes after a solar eclipse.

And in 2017, a woman from New York, suffered from blurred vision and permanent dark spots after staring directly into the solar eclipse.

Nia Payne, 26, told doctors she first glanced at the sun during the eclipse for six seconds then she borrowed a pair of what she thought were eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun for another 15 to 20 seconds. 

But six weeks later, she was still seeing dark spots in her left eye.

‘It’s embarrassing. People will assume I was just one of those people who stared blankly at the sun or didn’t check the person with the glasses,’ Ms Payne told CNN at the time. 

‘It’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life. But it could be a whole lot worse, and I try to count my blessings.’

Doctors diagnosed her with a rare case of acute solar retinopathy, which occurs when the eye retina is severely damaged by gazing straight into the sun.

Experts recommend contacting an optician the moment spectator’s suspect they may have solar retinopathy or eclipse blindness.

The last total solar eclipse which could be seen from the UK was in 1999, and there will not be another until 2090. 

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