Staring at the sun may blind you

Children watch the total solar eclipse in the city of Ternate in Indonesia's Maluku Islands, on March 9, 2016.
Children watch the total solar eclipse in the city of Ternate in Indonesia's Maluku Islands, on March 9, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Staring at the sun could burn your retinas, warn doctors here.

People who look directly at a solar eclipse are at risk of a condition known as eclipse or solar retinopathy.

This damage can take minutes or less to happen, depending on the intensity of the glare.

Sufferers could experience blurred or distorted vision, dark spots, or changes in the way they perceive colour.

There is no pain as the retina has no pain receptors.

 

Said Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Shu Yen, senior consultant and deputy head of the surgical retina department at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC): "If the centre of the retina is burnt, then the damage is the worst and they may not recover.

RISKS OF RETINA BURNS

If the centre of the retina is burnt, then the damage is the worst and they may not recover. If it is off-centre, then there is a better chance of recovery.

ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LEE SHU YEN, senior consultant and deputy head of the surgical retina department at the Singapore National Eye Centre.

"If it is off-centre, then there is a better chance of recovery."

Added eye specialist Chua Wei Han, who is also medical director of Parkway Eye Centre@Mount Elizabeth Hospital: "Most people get back 90 to 100 per cent of their vision, and they take three to six months to recover.

"But some people will never recover. Some may end up with a hole in their retina."

The situation worsens if people use a magnifying aid to stare at the eclipse, pointed out Dr Gerard Nah, senior consultant in ophthalmology at the W Eye Clinic.

"It would be worse if they had used binoculars or other magnifying devices to look at the eclipse, because it is concentrating the power of the sun onto the eyes."

A pair of solar filters or glasses is needed for safe viewing.

Sunglasses, solar film and X-ray film are all unsafe.

Solar retinopathy cases are uncommon, and the SNEC said it has no recorded cases.

There is no treatment and the best cure is prevention, say the doctors.

There is no method of doing retinal transplants. Researchers, however are looking into it, but they have not been able to replicate all ten layers that the retina is made up of, noted Prof Lee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Staring at the sun may blind you'. Print Edition | Subscribe