You heard the advice repeated over and over again: Don’t look directly at the solar eclipse! (Unless you do this, of course.) Whether you watched it along the path of totality or somewhere on the outskirts, this natural phenomenon was definitely the coolest thing happening in the sky on Monday. Three cheers for science!
But even if you took all the right precautions, from using special eclipse glasses to crafting a viewer out of a cereal box, you may have still stolen a few unprotected glances upward. Now your eyes feel funny, and you’re freaking out. Don’t worry, you probably won’t be blinded forever.
First of all, it takes about 12 hours before the real symptoms kick in, according to Ralph Chou, a professor emeritus of optometry and vision science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. Chou told NPR that if you saw the sun briefly without a protective filter, the chances that you’ve damaged your eyes are low. Same goes for viewing the eclipse on a camera or smartphone display; in either case, you’re in no real danger of blindness. (But the eclipse probably messed with your horoscope.)
Even if you watched the eclipse through glasses from a reputable seller, you might have walked away thinking your eyes felt a little funny. Don’t panic—it’s completely normal.
“For a brief time, you’ll suffer the same kind of after-image effects that you get from looking at a very bright headlight or flash from a camera,” Chou told NPR. “It’s just that you’ve overloaded some of the photo receptors, and it takes a while to get back to full function.”
Rest assured, though: “In most cases, it’s going to be just a few minutes,” Chou said. “There’s no lasting damage from that.”
But let’s say you didn’t heed the repeated warnings and took a glimpse at the sun without a protective filter. If you woke up today with blurred vision or spots in your eyesight, it could be legitimate cause for worry.
Chou described the symptoms of retina damage as “blurred vision, where the very center of the vision might have a spot, or multiple spots, that were missing in their vision—that were very, very blurred. Around it, there might be some clear spots.”
He recommends seeing an optometrist as soon as possible to determine the type and severity of the damage. Until then, staying indoors and wearing sunglasses will make you feel more comfortable, although it probably won’t heal your eyes.
While vision loss can get better over the course of several months, damage is permanent about half the time, Chou says.
Thankfully, the odds of that level of retina damage remain pretty low. Do your eyes still hurt? As it turns out, there are lots of ways to strain your eyes without realizing it—and not all of them have to do with the sun.