AOA urges concerned patients to see their doctors of optometry.

Eye and vision concerns eclipse Aug. 21 celestial phenomenon

Shortly after the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, Google reported a spike in the search terms "eyes hurt eclipse."

"If someone believes they had accidental exposure to the sun during an eclipse, they should immediately make an appointment with their doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye exam to ensure there is no serious damage."

Further, a few news reports surfaced Tuesday of a surge in people going to their local emergency rooms. Some people were treated for fractures and sprains-after the black-out eclipse-viewing glasses caused them to trip. But some also reported headaches and blurred vision.

"If someone believes they had accidental exposure to the sun during an eclipse, they should immediately make an appointment with their doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye exam to ensure there is no serious damage," AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., says.

Public education


Many apparently heeded the warnings to the public.

The AOA teamed up with NASA, the American Astronomical Society and others to issue a series of public health warnings and education on how to view the eclipse safely. Local doctors of optometry found keen interest in their communities, too, and took the opportunity to talk to audiences specifically about how to view the eclipse safely, as well as eye health and vision care in general.

At Snowy River Vision Center, in Laramie, Wyoming, doctors and staff provided about a half dozen social media posts focused on how to "safely enjoy" viewing the celestial phenomena; for example, "Looking at the sun or the partially eclipsed sun without proper eye protection can cause permanent vision loss ... seek eye care immediately if you feel that your vision has changed after viewing the eclipse."

Prior to the eclipse, the Snowy River practice sold about 800 pair of ISO-approved glasses, while dispensing information on how to be safe during the eclipse event. A handful of patients had contacted the practice by Tuesday, concerned about post-eclipse symptoms, says Sue Lowe, O.D., who practices there and is chair of the AOA Health Promotions Committee.

On the eve of the eclipse, Michael Schecter, O.D., who practices outside of Columbus, Ohio, had urged people to avoid the risk of damage to their eyes. For his part, Dr. Schechter skipped experiencing the eclipse firsthand.

"I actually did not watch the eclipse," Dr. Schecter says. "I had patients scheduled all afternoon, and they are my top priority."

"I have had many people contact me online over the past few weeks with questions and concerns," Dr. Schecter says. "As of this (Tuesday, Aug. 22), I have not received any phone calls from people who believe they may have damaged their eyes, which is a welcome relief."

Symptoms of solar eye damage


For those concerned about eye damage, the AOA recommends reaching out to an eye doctor.

"If someone was exposed to the sun's light ion, they might not experience immediate symptoms. For example, if someone burned their retina when watching the eclipse without protection, they would not feel it, because the retina does not have any pain receptors. This is why it is extremely important to see an optometrist if they believe there was any exposure. Eventual symptoms could include blurred or distorted vision in one or both eyes or sensitivity to light. Solar retinopathy and photokeratitis are two disorders caused by the sun," says Dr. Quinn.

"Solar retinopathy, which could be caused by looking directly at the sun, can result in permanent damage to your eyes from the bright light from the sun flooding the retina on the back of the eye," he adds. "This exposure to solar radiation on the retina causes damage to its light-sensitive rod and cone cells by igniting a series of thermal and complex chemical reactions within the cells. Photokeratitis is often called a 'sunburn of the eye,' and can be painful. Its symptoms include red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing."

Symptoms from viewing the eclipse without protection will likely show themselves between 24 to 48 hours after the event, says Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., professor of optometry at Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Oregon. Dr. Citek also chairs the AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards and serves the American National Standards Institute, which helps protect the public by ensuring that eyewear are manufactured within allowable tolerances.

The initial retinal response will be swelling (with the symptoms of reduced acuity), which should be visible with a macular OCT (optical coherence tomography), Dr. Citek says. After the initial patient visit, a follow-up appointment might be needed.

"This would only be done to monitor the condition, because once the retina is damaged beyond mere swelling, the damage becomes permanent," says Dr. Citek.

For his part, Dr. Schechter skipped experiencing the eclipse firsthand.

"I actually did not watch the eclipse," Dr. Schecter says. "I had patients scheduled all afternoon, and they are my top priority."

August 23, 2017

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