No matter how many warnings we heard about the dangers of looking directly at the solar eclipse with our bare eyes, many of us did it anyway.
But that daredevil impulse unleashed a torrent of post-eclipse worries on Tuesday, namely: Did I wreck my eyes? Google searches for “eyes hurt” peaked immediately after the historic eclipse.
Some Minnesotans took to Twitter to air their concerns:
Danny Cunningham tweeted: “The biggest surprise about the solar eclipse is how many of my friends are surprised that their eyes hurt now. From staring at the sun.”
In his tweet, Mike Schardin observed: “I love all these shots with people taking photos of the eclipse and their special glasses are on their head not their eyes.”
And then there was this wisecrack from Thom Wadezero: “Stared directly into the eclipse. My eyes now shoot laser beams and I have no idea how to make it stop.”
Twin Cities eye doctors fielded questions from worried patients on Tuesday, and urged anyone with concerns to consult with their eye doctor.
“I had a patient this morning who was concerned that she looked at the sun too long,” said Dr. Robert Hersman at Hopkins Eye Clinic. “She felt funny, but in fact, her eyes were fine.”
The patient had been wearing protective glasses made for viewing the eclipse, but still, she felt what she described as a mild ache in her eyes, Hersman said.
Damage to the retina from sun exposure, known as solar retinopathy, can happen when the eye is exposed directly and for too long to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. That can happen in a matter of three or four minutes, he said. In Minnesota, the cloudy skies during the eclipse helped reduce the risk of harm.
Hersman’s colleague, Dr. Aaron Mjelstad, also saw a patient on Tuesday who feared she’d injured her eyes by viewing the eclipse. She’d used a welder’s mask to shield her eyes but began to doubt whether it protected her eyes enough.
“She wanted to be safe and get it checked out,” Mjelstad said. “She was fine.”
Ralph Chou, a professor emeritus of optometry in Canada and an expert on sun damage to the eyes, told NPR that the chances of hurting your eyes from viewing the eclipse are very low if you only stole a brief glance — less than a second — at the sun without the protective eyewear.
He also told NPR that it would take 12 hours to notice any symptoms, including “blurred vision, where the very center of the vision might have a spot or multiple spots that were missing in their vision or were very blurred. Around it there might be some clear spots,” Chou said.
Recovery of solar retinopathy happens spontaneously and takes three to six months, though visual recovery may be incomplete, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.