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Military tech identifies eclipse-shaped eye damage

A woman who viewed the US solar eclipse earlier this year without protective glasses has been left with permanent crescent-shaped damage over one of her retinas that matches exactly the shape of the sun at the time of the eclipse.

The case, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, was the first of its kind to be assessed with modern imaging tools due to the relative rarity of solar eclipses.

According to the report, the woman developed blurred and distorted vision in the hours after the eclipse, along with impaired colour vision and a black spot in the central part of her vision in her left eye.

Following a series of tests, en face OCT images and adaptive optics of the left eye corresponded to the crescent-shaped scotoma drawn earlier by the patient on an Amsler grid.

Study co-author Dr Chris Wu said it was exciting to see the correlation between the symptoms and the photoreceptor injury on a cellular level.

"Hopefully this research allows us to potentially develop future therapies for solar retinopathy."
Dr Chris Wu, NYEEI resident physician

“Hopefully this research allows us to potentially develop future therapies for solar retinopathy and other forms of photic injury to the retina,” he said adding, “This study can prepare doctors and patients for the next eclipse in 2024 and make them more informed of the risks of directly viewing the sun without protective eyewear.”

CNN reported the adaptive optics used by the doctors were originally developed by the military to focus laser beams, before being used with telescopes to reduce the twinkle of stars so they could be viewed more clearly. In ophthalmology, they can be used to look at individual cells in the photoreceptor layer of the retina, where the uptake of light occurs before it is converted and transmitted to the brain.

“New York Eye and Ear Infirmary is one of the few sites in North America with access to this technology, and using this to get an exact look at this retinal damage on such a precise level will help clinicians better understand the condition,” lead investigator Assistant Professor Avnish Deobhakta said.

The patient, who was diagnosed with solar retinopathy and photochemical burns in her eyes, was one of 22 patients who presented at the infirmary with eclipse related eye damage. She returned for a follow up observation in January, but it is not known if her vision has improved.

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