In the August 2017 blog post we spoke about a safe way to view the eclipse that took place that month. The biggest reason for viewing the eclipse in this way was to avoid any risk of permanent vision loss. I’m happy to say that the response I received from my patients was very positive – I understand a lot of people appreciated my post because several did not know the eclipse was even taking place until 24-48 hours ahead of time so purchasing glasses on amazon was not an option and paying $10 or more for eclipse glasses just did not make sense.
I am also happy to say that the afternoon after the eclipse into this month I received several calls to evaluate adults and children for damage following the eclipse and after careful examination exactly zero patients suffered from this condition! Unfortunately in this same time frame I did examine one young patient who was suffering from poor vision in one eye. After two exams and some discussion we determined that the vision loss was the result of this youngster using a laser pointer and a mirror to shine the laser into their own eye. To this end, I’d like to devote this blog post discussing the damage that can occur from viewing an eclipse without proper eyewear, prolonged sungazing and inappropriate use of laser pointers since all of these conditions are the result of similar processes and all can be easily avoided.
The retina is a delicate tissue, it is closely related to what makes up nerve and brain tissue. This tissue does not regenerate – meaning once it is damaged it cannot repair itself effectively. Usually once the retina suffers damage the damage cannot be undone. In the Photic Maculopathies (resulting from eclipse gazing, sungazing, misuse of laser pointers, etc) this damage results when visible light (usually on the blue end of the spectrum) kicks off a chemical cascade resulting in permanent retinal damage and injury. Laser pointers usually are a red diode close to a wavelenght of 650 nanometers. The damage is permanent.
The following photos are courtesy of Mark Dunbar OD, FAAO. A colleague of mine who I worked with at the University of Miami Medical School. The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute is part of the University of Miami, it is world renowned and has been consistently rated as one of the top eye hospitals in the nation. While at Bascom Palmer I was in charge of the Optometry Student Training Program. This program hosted between 12-14 Doctors in Training. At the time I held clinical faculty appointments at 5-6 Doctorate level Optometry Schools around the country including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Indiana and my alma mater The New England College of Optometry.
The reddish/orange photos represent photos of the retina- the delicate tissue in the back of the eye. When you look at a person’s face, written words or need to see things in fine detail you are using a portion of the retina called the macula. In the color photos, the macula is in the center of each picture. It’s kind of a brownish spot in the center of each photo…in the middle of THAT area, if you look closely (and use your maculae) you can see a reddish spot with some yellow dots- that is a sign of solar maculopathy- this patient developed decreased vision after prolonged staring at the sun (wrong hobby). As time goes on the lesion can take on a darker, brick red coloration.
The black and white photos represent an “OCT” an optical coherence tomograph. This is a sort of CT Scan giving us a non-invasive way to look at the retina and it’s layers in cross section. In these photos an optometrist is able to see the retinal damage that has occurred and at what layer this occured, allowing us to make the diagnosis.
As I mentioned earlier the unfortunate part is that this damage and associated vision loss is permanent. This damage can occur from mis-use of laser pointers, prolonged sun-gazing and unprotected eclipse viewing. The macula is the same area impacted when one develops age related macular degeration (AMD or ARMD). Macular degeneration can be inherited but can be mitigated. In my next blog post I intend to talk about AMD, the latest treatments and possible nutrients that can help slow the progression of this disease.
Thank you for reading, if you need to make an appointment regarding macular degeneration, other vision problems or any reason- I can be contacted here.