By Published On: 7 November 20122.6 min read

Why not?

– Because you can cause serious damage to your eyesight.

Now you might think that people wouldn’t look at the sun would you, but you would be wrong – many people look up into the sky during an eclipse of the sun thinking that just because the light is poor the sun won’t do any damage, and this is simply NOT the case!

There DEFINITELY IS enough sunlight during even a total eclipse to cause damage – permanent damage – to the eyes, especially if as is often the case eclipse watchers insist on staring at the phenomenon for long periods.

It isn’t the heat of the sun that does the damage – it’s the light!

Light is focussed through the eye lens which concentrates that light at the back of the eye on the macula, an extremely light sensitive area of the retina. The light from the sun contains very harmful rays that the retina just cannot cope with!

Retinopathy is a general medical term used to describe any inflammation or degradation in the retina, usually caused by diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The term solar retinopathy is reserved to be used when the inflammation is caused by exposure to sunlight (and some other serious harmful light conditions).

What happens if you do look at the sun too long?

Fortunately any vision loss is usually recoverable, although it can take from a few months to a year before everything is back to normal.

Symptoms experienced obviously include loss of vision and can be measured during conventional eye tests, but also a “blind spot” – known medically as a scotoma – may form. The formation of a blind spot can be thought of as being produced on the retina in a similar way as a magnifying glass is able to produce a burn mark on a piece of paper if focussed correctly.

The question people often ask is “can looking at the sun cause blindness?” – and the answer of course is not really. Staring at the sun is not painful but it is difficult to do for long periods.

Treatment

There isn’t really any – but remember that any loss of vision is reversible; this means the important ingredient in the treatment protocol consists of big doses of patience!

And during the patience period maybe a thought or two should be given to the old adage “prevention is better than cure”.

How should you look at an eclipse?

The best thing to do of course is not look at it at all!

After every eclipse, even though warnings have been broadcast, there are always instances of mild to severe cases of “sun blindness”. Inevitably there are also assessments made and reported in medical journals

A good way to experience an eclipse safely is to watch it on TV.

If there isn’t a TV station broadcasting the event then why not make a simple pin-hole projector with a couple of cards. If you need help then do an internet search and you’ll find plenty of ideas.

Happy eclipse watching – just be careful that’s all!

Comments

69 Comments

  1. William Fletcher 23 December 2012 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    The thing i dont understand is that it causes permanent damage but vision is recoverable, that makes no sense

  2. Chris 12 August 2015 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Hi there!
    I looked at the most recent solar eclipse (March 20th), without proper pretection. I looked at it for about 3 seconds, probably because I couldn’t see anything due to the heavy clouds, so I didn’t think anything of it. You weren’t able to see the sun at all when the eclipse was going on. I was very foolish, I know. Should I be worried or seek an eyedoctor to be sure everything is in order?

  3. Derek 27 January 2016 at 5:29 am - Reply

    Many years ago I stared for too long at the sun.
    It left a mark in the very center of my vision.
    It looks like a shimmering diamond in the very center of everything I look at.
    Is there anything that can be done to remove it?

  4. Amin 9 March 2016 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I looked at the solar eclipse this morning… n right i think my eye vision is kind of different… everything around me looks too bright… n colour of thing i see is kind of different too… so.. what happened to my eyes ? Is it just my feeling or there is something wrong with my eyes ?

  5. Tina 11 August 2016 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Hi,
    I was taking my little one (almost 2 years old) to the daycare this morning (8am). He was sitting in his stroller and when we came around the corner of our house i bent down to get our sunglasses from the pocket under the stroller. After fumbling a minute i rise and see that the sun is directly in front and my little one staring right at it. He has very big round brown eyes. How likely is it that he may have damaged his sight permanently? He is so small and can’t tell me if he is having problems. I have been searching the net all day and came across this article and noticed there was a “recent” reply on the comments so I am giving it a go :)

    Is it common for kids to look at the sun? And if they by accident glance at it when scanning the sky for something else how likely is damage?

    Are childrens eyes more susceptible to sun damage than adults?

    My child got his sunglasses but I could not find mine so I got the sun in my eyes all the way to the daycare which is a 10min walk. I accidentally looked at the sun not only once but around 4-5times with just a 1sec glance each time since the sun was straight ahead and at head-level. Have I damaged my eyes permanently? My eyes seemed dry, tired and slightly out of focus one hour later, I do not think i have any blind spots but i do notice alot of tiny floting specs/dots and floaters when looking at a bright area or at the sky. They may have been there all along, but I have not noticed them before.
    Also colors seem less vibrant but it might be my imagination.

    Is the chance of eye damage largely redused by looking next to the sun or is this just as bad?

    Is it onetime incidents like this that cause most damage or is it sun exposure over time?

    Sorry for all the questions, I am a very curious person! :)

    If you see this and reply, thank you so much for your time!

  6. Marvin 9 October 2016 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Hi, I am currently 21, and here’s my story:-
    When I was 12-13 I used to look at bright lights from vehicles, streetlights etc(i dont know why). I started having teary eyes and got my first spectacles at 15 (power -1.25D).I still have the same power and desperately want to get rid of the specs.
    Please tell me, is it because of the lights that got me constant power?
    is it reversible?
    and how?
    p.s. please do not tell all the laser surgeries
    Thanks in advance

  7. Rein 9 May 2017 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Hi, I need your help.
    When I was 13 I joined a stupid contest who looked at the sun the longest. Now, after that I got a small yellow spot in my vision. It has been 15 years now, it’s still there and I don’t know how to remove that. Please help

    • Jim Kokkinakis 17 May 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately this is solar retinopathy. You are very lucky that it is only a small spot. There is nothing with todays technology that can be done. You could try taking Lutein as a supplement. I doubt this will recover any vision but at least stop anything from getting worse. Never look at the sun.

  8. Balakrishna 26 July 2017 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Has anybody recovered from this. Today I was diagnosed with this.. Central vision has a glowing revolving sun like thing… Doctor said it doesn’t seem to be permanent and asked to revisit after 3 months…
    Any help is appreciated

    • Jim Kokkinakis 12 August 2017 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      This will depend on how long the exposure was for. There is nothing you can do about it and even visiting the Dr in 3 months will not achieve anything. It will probably settle in your case.

  9. Jim Kokkinakis 12 August 2017 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Please do not worry, this will not have caused any problems.

  10. Maria Wey 21 August 2017 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I looked out the window today to see if the sun was shining in and there is was in my eyes… I did this to see if I needed to cover the window from the eclipse tomorrow because of my kitties. Gads, I did not realize that checking to see if the sun was out there would hurt me. Just from the eclipse.

    • Maria Wey 21 August 2017 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      What I am trying to say is that I looked out to see if it was there this time of day – time that the eclipse will be tomorrow – for my kitties to look at, and I inadvertanty looked at it with my eyes. It was just enough to notice that it was there. So what if you look at it by accident like this for a few seconds, will it harm you? My vision seems to be fine. But because it was there, I am covering up the window with black plastic bags so that my poor kitties don’t get hurt :(

      • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 8:02 am - Reply

        I am sure your kitties will be fine. Humans look at eclipses as they are so novel.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 8:01 am - Reply

      Quick glimpses are Ok. Staring at it is the problem.

  11. Ash 22 August 2017 at 4:43 am - Reply

    I looked at the sun for about 10 seconds mabye a tiny less right before a solar eclipse but the eclipse had not started yet. I looked away and my eyes hurt and my eyes feel tired and I have a headache and my vision is slightly effected a tiny bit blurry. Should I be worried? I know I shouldn’t have done it but you can’t focus on the past. I’m just scared I ruined my eyes.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 27 September 2017 at 7:52 am - Reply

      Ash looking at the sun is probably worse than looking at the eclipse, as there is much more light. You probably have not done anything serious, just do not do it again. Looking at the sun hurts because we should not look directly at it.

  12. Yogita 22 August 2017 at 8:01 am - Reply

    So I need help. Today during the eclipse I bent down to pick up the newspaper that had fell down from the table. As I was getting up my eyes directly fell on the eclipse for a few seconds. I could have seen the half sun clearly. I looked away as quickly as I could. But when I looked away I started seeing very dark and black and blurry and dull. And after a couple of seconds my vision came back to normal. Will this leave to permanent damage

    • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 8:03 am - Reply

      No it will not. A few accidental seconds is not a problem.

  13. Antonio 22 August 2017 at 9:49 am - Reply

    hey today i looked at the eclipse i didnt have any eclipse glasses but i grabbed 3 pairs of sunglasses and put them over my eyes, I looked around 3 times each being around 2-3 seconds so i would say together 9 or 10 seconds. will this make me go blind because im really scared.

    • Antonio 22 August 2017 at 9:50 am - Reply

      and i only had 3 pairs so i used all just so it would be more protection. and another question. I have been hearing things about a “naked eye” if i have sunglasses on, is it still considered a naked eye?

      • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 8:04 am - Reply

        Yes it is still considered naked. Normal sunglasses are not full protection against an eclipse.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 9:25 am - Reply

      No it wont but it is important not to do this again.

      • Antonio Diaz 6 October 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

        Ok thanks.

  14. Diane 22 August 2017 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    While viewing the solar eclipse I had the proper eye protection on, but I took them off so my friend could look through them. For a split second my eyes made contact with the sun but I looked away as soon as I did that. Do I have anything to worry about.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 17 September 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

      Nothing to worry about.

  15. bill 21 October 2017 at 3:32 am - Reply

    Hello!

    I looked at the sun with (approved, verified, undamaged) protective glasses during the US solar eclipse on 21 August 2017. I only looked for a total of about 20 seconds in 5 4-second bursts over a period of ten minutes, though I did, unfortunately, hold my own prescription glasses OVER the eclipse glasses. Apparently you are not supposed to do that, according to, uh, NASA’s website.

    My vision has been fuzzy — sort of a “looking through a heat haze” effect — since then. Also, my eyes have been strained and my head has hurt (some days it’s better, some days it’s worse) every day since then. I don’t have any blind spots in my central vision. I do see after-images of light sources *very* easily. It has made watching television somewhat unpleasant.

    My optometrist saw no damage, though referred me to an ophthalmologist.

    The ophthalmologist saw no damage, though referred me to a retina specialist.

    The retina specialist did all the imaging tests (OCT, fluorescein angiogram, etc) and said he saw “no overt solar retinopathy”. His usage of the word “overt” sorta scared me! He said “I see a very, very mild blunting of the foveal reflex in the right eye, and it could be argued that there has been some minuscule damage to the outer plexiform layer, though I would not be surprised if the symptoms cleared up in one month.”

    He prescribed me bromfenac eye drops “for your mild ocular discomfort” and told me to come back in a month. I dutifully did my eye drops. I went back in a month. He looked at my eyes. He said the reflex had returned and that he could not perceive any damage on the OCT.

    He asked if I was seeing any better. I said I think maybe it’s gotten better, though maybe it hasn’t gotten *remarkably* better. It’s hard to tell! And he told me to come back in three months, so he could do all the tests again, just to make sure.

    I obsess over my vision I’d say about 3/4 of my waking hours, these days. I have read a lot about retina damage. I keep seeing articles and journals that say the damage is temporary and clears up in between 3-6 months in “most cases”.

    I just don’t know what the nature of the “temporary” damage is. Like, what is damaged? Is it inflammation? Is it possible for there to be damage that an ophthalmologist — AND a retina specialist! — both can’t see even on their fanciest tests? That retina specialist had me in his office for about three hours to do all those tests!

    The ophthalmologist who referred me to the retina specialist told me that there’s a chance I’m imagining my symptoms. He told me, “I believe your symptoms are real, though there’s no damage that I can see, so there’s also a chance your imagination is exaggerating the symptoms.”

    It’s been almost two months since the eclipse. I don’t believe my imagination is exaggerating the symptoms, though what do I know?

    The ophthalmologist also told me that my eyes were dry. Since stopping the Bromsite (after one month, as per the retina specialist’s orders), my eyes have been incredibly red and dry. I’ve been using artificial tears and it is only making them redder and dryer. I am confused. Maybe the dry eyes are contributing to my vision problems / light sensitivity! I don’t know.

    Ah, I meant to just type a couple of words, though here I went ahead and typed all this.

    Uh, I believe my question was . . . do you think I’m going to be OK?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 31 October 2017 at 6:54 am - Reply

      From what you have written, I think you have nothing to worry about. Please do not look at another eclipse again.

  16. Joseph 4 December 2017 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Hello I would really appreciate your help with something. I am pretty sure I have a small form of solar retinopathy after having gazed at this years eclipse. The colors in my central vision are darker than they are in my peripheral. I looked at it for about 3 seconds and am just unlucky I guess. I am 26 and the condition is not at all that debilitating right now as I can read perfectly well and function normally. Also, I have seen an Ophthalmologist and they say I have no damage to my retina, so again what I have is very small. My question is, will this condition get worse on its own as the years go by? I will never look at the sun on purpose again, but is that enough to ensure no further damage?

    Thank you.

    • Jim Kokkinakis 10 December 2017 at 6:59 am - Reply

      Hi Joseph
      The recent solar eclipse certainly kept me busy replying to many people who couldn’t help but look.
      I am pretty sure you will not have any further damage, in fact it is likely to slowly improve from where it is.
      Of course never do this again, but if you want to be proactive (although not proven), take a daily vitamin with Lutein in it.
      You might want to check out an article I have written on my main website about protecting your macula.
      You of course do not have macular degeneration but protecting your macula by supplements and eating properly will keep you in good shape as you age.

  17. Aman Yadav 6 March 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Sir Yesterday i did look at full sun for 15 – 20 min . It was not an eclipse just normal sun . But now i am experiencing central blindness kind of thing . I can read see but in the center there is something a bit dark . So When i focus on reading something and seeing faces it doesn’t look clear as my peripheral vision . Please help me . I had forcefully tried to look at the sun its been 20+ hours . What damages i could’ve done . Please explain. I just cant see the focused text clearly there some darkness .

    • Jim Kokkinakis 6 March 2018 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      Aman why would you look at the sun for 15-20 minutes for? What were you trying to achieve?
      Unfortunately what you have suffered is solar retinopathy. It is impossible to now know whether this effect is permanent. Whatever improvement occurs will be natural healing. I would start taking some vitamins that have Lutein, as these are protective of the back of the eye. The final piece if advice is never look directly at the sun again.

  18. Chris Cegielkowski 12 June 2018 at 7:33 pm - Reply

    I was looking at the sun few days ago for about one minute. Now I see yellow spot in both of my eyes. Im very worried. Is there any chance that this spot will go away ?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 22 August 2018 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      This is unfortunate and it is why we wrote this article. Never look at the sun. With time it is likely that at least one eye will improve, hopefully both. The time frame is very difficult to judge though. I suspect it could take many months.

  19. Em 2 November 2019 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    Hi there, please help! I looked around (10 sec) and at the sun (2-3 sec) to find something in the sky yesterday and noticed i had those sun spots in my eyes (residual dots after you look at a bright light). They still haven’t gone away and it’s been about 12 hours. Should I be worried about this?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 3 May 2020 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      It’s possible you have irritated your retina from the sun. It is unlikely to be serious. It is also likely that this will slowly fade away over time.
      The moral to this now is avoid looking at the sun again.

  20. Peter 8 April 2020 at 4:57 am - Reply

    Hello

    I looked at a sunset for a few secounds

    My symptoms were that i saw lighting strikes going from left to right when blinking and and a big yellow circle not sure if it was a after image of the sun

    This was almost a year ago

    Now i notice a orb at the very top of my vision when i look straight and the sky is blue is it doesnt behave like a floater

    Could it be that my retina is burned ?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 3 May 2020 at 2:58 pm - Reply

      It is unlikely that you have burned your retina. Solar retinopathy typically affects one eye and it is very central to the vision. I would have a comprehensive eye check done by an eye practitioner to rule out anything else.

  21. Marcus 1 May 2020 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Hi!
    I was playing badminton in the sun for about 45 minutes just this evening and I was facing in the sun’s direction.
    It was mostly cloudy and only done light from the sun was visible.
    I was not wearing sunglasses.
    I looked at the sun across many spilt second intervals to retrieve the shots every few seconds.
    Do you think any damage has occurred?
    I’m just really worried 😔

    • Marcus 1 May 2020 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      *It was mostly cloudy and only some light from the sun was visible.
      *I looked at the sun across many split second intervals to retrieve the shuttlecock every few seconds.

      • Jim Kokkinakis 3 May 2020 at 2:56 pm - Reply

        Marcus I would not be worried. This type of activity is very unlikely to even cause the slightest bit of damage. Looking directly at the sun for significant periods of time when the sun is high in the sky with no clouds is where it is very dangerous. What you have done is insignificant.

  22. Aj 28 May 2020 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Can a scotoma go away? Even if it persists beyond a week? I stared at the sun for somewhere around 35-45 seconds, but I did that maybe 5 to 7 times in the span of 45 min, I was walking and there was a stretch of my walk that directly faced the sun, so I decided to look at the sun for that stretch each lap. Now there’s a somewhat small scotoma in the center of my vision that’s on both eyes, but less defined on my right, I can see very keenly on my right with a slight disturbance, but the left is more difficult. It’s been 5 days, I hear that some individuals need months to a year to recover, but in the earlier posts you mentioned that if it doesn’t go away in a week, it’s likely permanent. Is it possible that this scotoma could take more time to go away fully? It’s been 5 days, with hardly noticable improvement.

    • amin 8 October 2020 at 12:53 am - Reply

      Hello, I just want to ask you if you could see well again or not, and how long did you spend for recovery?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 13 October 2020 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Aj every person is unique, which a unique exposure and angle to the sun. What also can occur even if the damage is permanent is it will fill in the gaps for you so you cannot perceive a problem or the problem is minimised. Time frames are impossible to be sure about.

  23. Akarsh 24 July 2020 at 1:16 am - Reply

    Hi, Akarsh here, while I was playing football in my back garden, I accidentally stared at the sun for about 5-10 secs and since then I have a slightly obscured vision, which isn’t as such too blurry. I cant concentrate on looking at one thing, it blurs over time. What do you think I should do?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 27 August 2020 at 5:34 pm - Reply

      I think you are very lucky Akarsh. This is likely to improve by itself over a number of weeks. There is nothing to do if this is related to looking at the sun. Do not do this again!

    • Jim Kokkinakis 13 October 2020 at 11:30 am - Reply

      Never look at the sun again Akarsh. I suspect you havent had an extensive exposure so you might recover reasonably well. It also can time as everyone has a unique healing response.

  24. alisa 8 March 2021 at 4:53 am - Reply

    hi, today I was walking past a window not looking out it. not looking at the sun but I got hit on the side of my eye with a blast of sunlight. probably a second exposure. I wasn’t really able to react in time to do anything before I’d passed it. I could feel it fully lighting up the eye and it feels weird now afterwards. can you do this kind of damage the article talks about with this kind of exposure? if it makes any difference it’s morning sun.

    also is looking at the sunset harmful?

    • Jim Kokkinakis 6 May 2021 at 11:06 am - Reply

      Alisa
      Im pretty sure you are fine. Morning and afternoon sun is far less harmful than midday sun, but it is best to avoid looking at it.

      • Tim 30 June 2021 at 9:27 pm - Reply

        Hi Jim,

        Appreciate you responding still after many years. I had an accidental quick glance (2 seconds) at the sun this afternoon (4:30pm) while wearing polarised sunglasses. I believe UV exposure was 0.3 today in Sydney.

        Was wearing sunnies a bad idea because my pupils expand allowing more light in?
        I have an appointment with my eye doctor tomorrow as my routine exam, if any damage was done to my retina would they be able to pick it up that soon after the event?

        My right eye and temple feels slightly sore a few hours after.

        • Jim Kokkinakis 8 July 2021 at 3:59 pm - Reply

          I doubt there will be an issue with this Tim. At 4.30pm the sun rays are far less intense and wearing sunglasses if anything should help. I would not worry about it. The reality is there is nothing you can do now other than try and avoid staring at the sun in the future on purpose. Little accidental peaks at it will not cause any issue, as we all will suffer for this.

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