'Why Do My Eyes Hurt?': Google Searches Rise Following Eclipse

Following the rare total solar eclipse that passed over Mexico, the United States, and Canada on Monday, people are googling “Why do my eyes hurt?” at extremely high rates.

Despite ample warnings against it, it seems a number of people couldn’t resist staring up at the sun during Monday’s solar eclipse, and now they’re wondering if their eyes have been damaged.

According to Google Trends, many people are searching for answers about why their eyes hurt, why they have headaches, and what kind of retina damage they may have after looking up at the sun without protection.

But just because you’re experiencing eye pain doesn’t mean you necessarily sustained serious damage, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). In fact, the retina does not have any pain nerves, so damage from the eclipse is not actually likely to result in any pain or discomfort.

Additionally, if you only looked up at the sun when it was entirely covered by the moon, then you’re safe, as the damage can only be done while the sun is partially exposed.

While cases of long-term eye and vision damage have been reported following previous eclipses, it is considered a very rare form of retinal injury that occurs after direct sungazing.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, eye strain, fatigue, and pain can merely be caused by focusing on something for too long without giving the eye a chance to relax, as well as the decrease in blinking that occurs when we look at something intently. This can also cause a headache, but these symptoms usually disappear once the eyes are able to rest.

Signs you may have solar retinopathy

If you did look up without certified glasses while the sun was peeking through, however, especially for a prolonged period of time, it’s possible that you’re experiencing solar retinopathy — a condition in which a layer of photosensitive tissue located on the back of the eyeball is injured by the sun’s intense light.

While pain isn’t a likely indicator that you’ve sustained solar retinopathy, other symptoms may include blurry vision, headache, a blind spot in your central vision in one or both eyes, increased sensitivity to light, distorted vision in which a straight line looks bent or a door jamb looks curvy, and changes in the way you see color, known as "dyschromatopsia.”

One or more of these symptoms is most likely to appear between four and six hours after exposure, though for some it takes 12 hours, according to AAO.

There is no treatment for solar retinopathy, but you should still see your ophthalmologist if you experience issues with your vision.

“An ophthalmologist will take a scan of the eye to see the extent of any damage,” says AAO. “Many people recover after three to six months, but some will suffer from permanent vision loss, in the form of a small blind spot and distortion.”

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