Staring at the Sun

Art & Research: Grace Noonan

Further Reading Literature: Grace Noonan

Why is staring at the sun bad?

On any normal day...

When we look at the sun, a defense mechanism triggers our eyes to squint so we limit the amount of light entering our eye. The remaining light enters your eye through the cornea (a clear layer on the front of your eye) and is adjusted by your pupil and iris. Next, light passes through the transparent inner part of your eye known as the lens which helps focus light onto the retina in the back of your eye. The retina is a layer of tissue that is sensitive to light thanks to photoreceptor cells that turn light into electrical signals that get sent to the brain via the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a bundle of specialized nerves that carry visual messages to your brain. Your brain then converts these electrical signals into images that you see in front of you! (National Eye Institute)

You keep staring...

However, if we stare at the sun for a longer period of time, there is an abundance of UV radiation that can burn your cornea and feel like a sunburn...but on your EYEBALLS. This is also referred to as photokeratitis and can last from a few hours to a couple of days (Cleveland Clinic). 

Why are you still staring?!

If, for some reason, you decide to ignore the pain coming from your cornea’s pain receptors, your retinal tissue will actually sustain damage and won’t be able to process light correctly. This is called solar retinitis and parts of your vision can be blurred out for weeks, months, or even a YEAR depending on the severity (Science Insider). 

Okay, you really shouldn't have done that...

In rare cases, the damage to your retina is so severe that it NEVER heals and the result is solar retinopathy. The most common cause of solar retinopathy is when people stare at a solar eclipse and the UV rays create a blind spot in the retina. Since a solar eclipse tricks your brain into thinking that the reduced amount of light coming from the sun is safe to look at, people don’t realize immediately how dangerous looking at an eclipse is. In addition, the retina has no pain receptors, so the damage occurs without pain and effects aren’t noticed until a few hours later (Horizon Eye Specialists). 

Prevention is key!

Now that you know the potential dangers of staring at the sun for a while, you can take action to take care of your precious eyeballs. First, choose good UV eye protection such as sunglasses that block 100% of the UV rays. For best results, get large lenses or ones that wrap around to cover your whole eye. Secondly, just don’t stare at the sun directly and instead appreciate all of the other stars that can be viewed safely with the naked eye (Horizon Eye Specialists). 

Want to learn more about this topic?

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