What Is Solar Retinopathy?

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Solar retinopathy is damage to the retina caused by extreme and prolonged light exposure. The retina is the layer of tissue in the back of the eye that is most sensitive to light. This type of eye injury is often associated with sun or solar eclipse viewing. However, other factors can cause this type of eye injury as well.

This article will provide an overview of everything you need to know about solar retinopathy, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Symptoms

Solar retinopathy can occur in both eyes or only one eye. Milder symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Eye soreness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes

More serious symptoms of solar retinopathy include:

  • Changes in vision, such as blurry vision
  • Partial or total loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Visualizing unnaturally colored objects, or seeing normally colorless objects in color
  • Visualizing normally straight lines as curvy lines
  • Pain in the eye

Length of Symptoms

Symptoms of solar retinopathy are often temporary and can last anywhere from one month to one year. However, in some cases, there may be permanent damage.

Causes

Solar retinopathy is usually caused by staring directly into the sun or watching a solar eclipse. The retina is very sensitive to light, and it becomes injured when exposed to excessively bright light.

Even a short amount of direct sun radiation can cause damage to the eye. The damage can also be cumulative (occurring over time), meaning if you continually look directly at the sun, the damage adds up. People who regularly sunbathe are at increased risk.

Children are especially at risk because their retinas do not have the same ultraviolet (UV) protection as adults.

There are other, less common, causes including:

  • Welding
  • Laser pointers
  • Ophthalmic microscopes
  • Light meters

People suffering from mental health disorders or drug intoxication may be unaware that they are damaging their retinas by looking at the sun.

Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with solar retinopathy, an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the eye) will have to examine your eyes. They will use optical coherence tomography (OCT), a type of eye imaging, to diagnose issues of the retina.

When to See a Doctor

If you are experiencing any unusual eye symptoms, it is important to see an ophthalmologist right away. Some eye conditions can be very serious and require immediate attention, such as a detached retina, a condition in which the retina pulls away from the blood vessels supplying it with oxygen and nutrients. A torn or detached retina needs emergency attention and must be treated promptly to avoid permanent eye damage.

Treatment

Treatment for solar retinopathy usually means waiting for your symptoms to resolve over time. Your vision loss or disturbance can remain for several months, but in most cases, solar retinopathy resolves without treatment.

Your ophthalmologist will likely schedule follow-up appointments with you to monitor your recovery progress.

Preventing Further Damage

It's important to make every effort to prevent further eye damage by wearing protective eyewear, such as sunglasses. Also, avoid looking directly at the sun at all times.

Prognosis

The prognosis for solar retinopathy is generally positive, as it typically resolves on its own. However, recovery can take several weeks to over a year, depending on the level of retinal damage.

In some cases, people never fully recover their vision, although this outcome is rare. The most common approach is to wait it out and see how retinal damage affects your vision over time.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, solar retinopathy is a preventable eye injury. Avoid looking directly into the sun, wear glasses with UV protection when outdoors, and do not look directly at a solar eclipse. People have experienced retinal injuries after looking directly into bright light for just a few seconds.

If you do experience any unusual changes to your vision, contact an eye doctor for an exam. Fortunately, most cases of solar retinopathy resolve in time and do not cause long-term damage.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Choi S-W, Chun K-I, Lee S-J, Rah S-H. A case of photic retinal injury associated with exposure to plasma arc welding. Korean J Ophthalmol. 2006;20(4):250-253. doi:10.3341/kjo.2006.20.4.250

  4. American Academy of Optimology. Solar retinopathy. Updated April 2021

  5. Abdellah MM, Mostafa EM, Anber MA, El Saman IS, Eldawla ME. Solar maculopathy: prognosis over one year follow upBMC Ophthalmol. 2019;19(1):201. doi:10.1186/s12886-019-1199-6