Ontario sees more than 115 cases of eye damage after solar eclipse: What to do if you feel any pain

There have been 118 reported cases of eye damage in Ontario since the phenomenon, adding to the several cases seen in Quebec.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

People gather to view the solar eclipse at Riverdale Park on April 8, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Maryam Majd/Getty Images)
Since the solar eclipse on April 8, there have been more than 200 cases of eye damage reported in Ontario and Quebec. (Photo by Maryam Majd/Getty Images)

Ontario eye doctors say there have been more than 115 cases of people suffering damage earlier this month after viewing the solar eclipse.

CTV News Toronto reported Friday the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) said it received 118 reports of eye complications since April 8, when millions of people gathered to see the phenomenon across North America.

"The severity of cases depends on which part of the retina is affected and how long the patient stared at the sun," the OAO told CTV News, noting cases were located across the province between Windsor and Ottawa.

These cases join the numerous reports of eye damage seen in Quebec since April 8, according to the province's health department. Those cases, along with the dozens seen in Ontario, include inflammation of the cornea, which sometimes heals over the course of a few days. But in extreme cases, solar retinopathy — a permanent burn to the retina — can cause permanent vision loss.

So if you went outside to view the solar eclipse earlier this month, should you worry? Here's what you need to know about any potential damage related to solar retinopathy.

According to the OAO, solar retinopathy is a condition that occurs when a person's retina — the light-sensitive tissue in our eyes that helps us see — suffers burns from solar radiation.

"This damage can cause permanent blind spots or vision distortions," the OAO stated. "Many people mistakenly believe that the reduced sunlight during an eclipse makes it safe to look directly at the sun, underestimating the risks involved."

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Headaches, watery eyes and sensitivity to light are some of the mild symptoms of solar retinopathy. (Photo via Getty Images)

Mild symptoms of solar retinopathy include headaches, watery eyes and sensitivity to light. Someone with more serious symptoms of the condition may experience blurred vision and eye pain. They might also see:

  • Metamorphopsia, when straight lines appear rounded

  • Micropsia, when objects appear smaller than they are

  • Scotoma, a blind spot in the line of sight

  • Abnormal colour vision

When you look directly at the sun, UV rays can damage your eye tissue, leading to solar retinopathy. The condition can sometimes develop when looking at bright lights from welding torches or laser pointers.

When it comes to eclipses, experts warned leading up to the event on April 8 that it's easy for your eyes to get damaged because the natural response to squint when looking at sunlight won't be triggered during the event. That means it'd be easier to stare into the sun for longer than you normally would, letting more UV rays damage that eye tissue. Moreover, it's easier to not feel the injury when it's occurring because the retina does not have pain receptors.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, someone who develops solar retinopathy may experience the first signs of the condition within hours of direct exposure to the sunlight. The OAO indicated the symptoms may appear between four to 12 hours after staring at an eclipse.

A man watches the beginning of the partial solar eclipse at Riverdale Park, wearing his special eclipse glasses. On April 8, 2024, Toronto witnessed a partial solar eclipse, with around 85% coverage of the sun. Skywatchers in the city observed the moon passing between the Earth and the sun, creating a noticeable dimming of sunlight during the event. (Photo by Shawn Goldberg/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
During a solar eclipse, you don't have the natural instinct to squint when looking at the sun, oftentimes leading to cases of eye damage. (Photo by Shawn Goldberg/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In most cases, Cleveland Clinic indicated solar retinopathy will heal, especially in mild cases. But if someone has a severe case of the condition, it's possible the effects will be irreversible. If diagnosed, your ophthalmologist should schedule regular appointments to continuously assess your vision.

"Work with your ophthalmologist to determine the best treatment plan for vision correction," Cleveland Clinic added.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of solar retinopathy should schedule an eye exam, where a specialist can help alleviate mild symptoms. If needed, people should avoid bright sources of light, wear sunglasses and take pain medication to alleviate headaches or soreness.

If you have solar retinopathy, it's possible your symptoms might improve up to six months after your exposure. According to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS), vision changes that are still present after six months are likely permanent.

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The retina is the inner lining of the back part of the eye, and it doesn't have pain receptors. (Photo via Getty Images)

The most common treatment for solar retinopathy is to wait for it to go away on its own. The AAPOS indicated there is no known treatment for the condition, and while steroids have been used to try and reverse symptoms, there's no proof they work for solar retinopathy. Otherwise, an eye doctor will regularly assess you for vision loss if you are affected by the condition.

To prevent solar retinopathy, the most important thing is to avoid looking directly at the sun, laser pointers or other bright lights without proper eye protection. During an eclipse, proper glasses that are the international standard of ISO 12312-2 — which are 1,000 times darker than most sunglasses — are recommended by experts.

These glasses have solar filters, where you shouldn't be able to see anything through them except the sun or an equally bright light. Additionally, you shouldn't look at the sun through a telescope or binoculars unless they equipped with a solar filter.

On normal days where there isn't an eclipse, it's best to continue protecting your eyes from the sun. Some of the best methods include wearing a hat along with sunglasses, getting UV-protective lenses for your regular glasses and avoiding staring directly into the sun.

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