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Did You Look At The Eclipse Without Glasses? You're Not Alone

By Kelly Bauer | August 22, 2017 11:09am | Updated on August 22, 2017 12:36pm
 Overcast skies did not dissuade Chicagoans from packing the Adler Planetarium and other sites Monday. 
Eclipse Viewing in Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — The thrill of Monday's eclipse was too much for some Chicagoans.

Though experts warned it could do irreversible damage to your eyes to look at the eclipse without solar glasses — for even one second — some people decided they'd take a look. Just a peek.

But that is all it takes to cause eye damage: People are now reporting pain in their eyes.

Google searches for "eyes hurt" spiked after the eclipse in Chicago (and nationwide), according to data from Google Trends. Many people also have taken to social media to post about pain in their eyes after taking a bare-eyed gander at the astronomical event.

Here's what that spike looks like:

Despite the spike in searches, it's possible viewers' eyes could have been damaged by the eclipse but they aren't feeling pain. And it could be days before those symptoms manifest and doctors can determine whether someone has indeed damaged their vision by peeking at the eclipse.

Symptoms of damage can include having small blind spots, distorted areas in your vision, areas that aren't clear and "seeing" a prolonged after-image (like when a camera's flash goes off), said Dr. Nicholas Volpe, chairman of Northwestern Medicine's Department of Ophthalmology.

Anyone experiencing those symptoms after looking at the eclipse shouldn't dismiss them, Volpe said. And even those who peeked at the sun but aren't experiencing symptoms should see a ophthalmologist who specializes in retinas (not an optometrist, the doctor who writes prescriptions for glasses), Volpe said.

"If you have any concerns about your vision, don't assume it's something innocent," Volpe said.

Northwestern's had one patient worried about her post-eclipse vision so far, Volpe said.

Those who peeked could suffer solar keratitis, described as "sunburn of the eye" in the Washington Post. Solar keratitis can cause pain and sensitivity to light for sufferers for about a day after looking at the sun.

Worse, though, is solar retinopathy, a long-term condition with no cure. Symptoms of solar retinopathy include "central graying and fuzziness of vision," according to the federal National Eye Institute.

The damage comes from heat and ultraviolet light overheating and damaging the light-sensitive cells in your retina, Volpe said. This can cause blind spots in your vision — usually in the center of it, he said.

Treatment would have been to determined by a doctor, Volpe said, and will require observation to determine how to help individual patients.

It's "not something where you say, 'Oh, I damaged my eye, and I'll live with it forever,'" Volpe said. "It's not something people should dismiss."

Several optometrists told DNAinfo they got calls before the eclipse from people with questions about how badly their eyes could be damaged if they were to look without glasses.

On Tuesday morning, at least two offices said they'd had people calling to set up appointments and double check that their vision hasn't been damaged.

 A woman watches the eclipse from an Adler Planetarium parking lot.
A woman watches the eclipse from an Adler Planetarium parking lot.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews