Nia Payne was like many Americans in August, wanting to see the historic solar eclipse that would span across every time zone in the country. Unlike many Americans, Payne’s eclipse glasses proved to be false. After glimpsing at the celestial event, which was 70 percent obscured, it only took her a tenth of a minute to realize she needed to grab some optical protection. After grabbing what she believed to be eclipse glasses and donning the glasses, she stared the sun down for a good 15 to 20 seconds.
Since then, Payne has realized that the eyewear she grabbed was not, in fact, eclipse-viewing glasses. Beginning a mere 48 hours after the event, Payne noticed a crescent-shaped mark in the center of her eyesight, mirroring the shape of the eclipse as she saw it in New York’s skyline. After eventually seeking out medical help at a nearby emergency room, doctors scanned Payne’s retina. The results of this retinal scan merited the publishing of a study in JAMA Ophthalmology.
The doctor’s findings indicated that Payne’s visual black spot and the damage to her retina were perfect reflections of the eclipse as she saw it back in August. This data indicates that scientists have a proper understanding of how the sun’s rays can harm the human eye. “Solar retinopathy” is the technical term for damage to the retina as a direct result of looking into the sun; the sun’s radiation is strong enough to burn a retina, even when it is blocked by the moon during a solar eclipse.
Doctors at Mount Sinai asked Payne to draw the black spot in her vision. Payne’s sketch indicated that the damage was far more pronounced in her left eye. After using a high fidelity imaging machine, a relatively new ophthalmological tool, to assess the cells in Payne’s retina, doctors were able to publish the first research into optical damage related to a solar eclipse.
The research team examined the photoreceptor of Payne’s retina, the part of the eye that converts light into electrical energy for the brain to detect it, and confirmed the presence of a crescent shape just like Payne’s drawing indicated. Researchers confirmed that having this information will give medical science more information to tackle treatment for this particular injury; while most people have enough awareness to look away from the sun, laser pointers are just as capable of producing similar damage.