Solar retinopathy: Retina burn from sunlight
Essentially, solar retinopathy is a retina burn, similar to an intense sunburn of the skin. It can cause serious and permanent damage to your eyesight and even legal blindness.
Other (less-used) terms for solar retinopathy include photic retinopathy and eclipse retinopathy.
What causes solar retinopathy?
Solar retinopathy is caused by staring at the sun.
The risk of solar retinopathy increases significantly during a solar eclipse, because some people who want to witness the eclipse fail to wear appropriate safety eyewear when doing so.
Damage to the macula from solar retinopathy can occur in a matter of seconds — especially if you aren’t wearing sunglasses with high-quality protective lenses.
When looking directly at the sun, its ultraviolet (UV) and high-energy blue light rays are focused directly on the very light-sensitive macula. Without filtration, these intense and highly focused light rays can quickly cause a retina burn in the macula that can result in permanent vision loss.
Similar retinal burns can be caused by staring directly at the beam of a laser pointer or other laser light source, depending on the intensity and wavelength of the laser beam and the duration of exposure.
However, a retina burn from a laser beam is technically not solar retinopathy, because it’s caused by a source of radiation other than the sun.
Solar retinopathy symptoms
Signs and symptoms of solar retinopathy or a burned retina include:
Reduced visual acuity
Blurry vision in general
Central or paracentral blind spot in either or both eyes
Sensitivity to light
SEE RELATED: When to visit a retina specialist
Is a retina burn permanent?
Depending on the severity of solar retinopathy or a retina burn, vision loss is often permanent.
For this reason, children should be advised to never stare at the sun.
Also, for routine eye protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, everyone should wear high-quality sunglasses that block 100% UV rays or eyeglasses with photochromic lenses outdoors.
Treatment and prevention
There is no effective medical treatment to cure solar retinopathy.
In some cases, vision may improve without treatment over a period of weeks or months. But often, vision loss from solar retinopathy or a retina burn is permanent.
The following treatments are recommended for coping with a burned retina:
Keep eyes rested as much as possible when experiencing symptoms
Avoid looking into bright lights, whether indoors or outdoors
Protect eyes from the sun by wearing UV protection
Limit screen exposure and protect eyes from harmful blue light
Follow up with an eye care professional
Each case of solar retinopathy may vary. Practicing these guidelines can help aid a burned retina, and some may help prevent damage from worsening or occurring in the first place.
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Page published in October 2020
Page updated in February 2021