Nearly 30 cases of eclipse-related eye damage reported in Quebec so far

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Quebec optometrists have confirmed 28 cases of eclipse-related eye damage since the solar event on April 8, and health officials say there could be far more.

For the first time, the Quebec’s health surveillance directorate has set up a watch for eye injuries linked to a solar eclipse, according to Ministry of Health and Social Services spokesperson Marie-Pierre Blier.

This is being done in collaboration with Quebec’s optometrist order. They’re particularly looking for cases presented in optometry clinics.

Cases of keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), solar retinopathy (damage to the retina from solar radiation) or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eyes) have been confirmed by optometrists via the eclipse-related eye damage reporting form.

Blier said 28 cases as of Wednesday could be a low estimation since the data collected from optometry clinics is on a voluntary basis, and there may be a delay in reporting. Also, she noted, not all people go to optometry clinics with concerns. 

WATCH | Quebec pauses to watch stunning eclipse:

Quebec pauses to watch stunning solar eclipse

In parks, on rooftops and in fields, Quebecers gathered to experience the awe- inspiring total eclipse together.

The data on injuries in Quebec is still preliminary, and it’s not clear how significant the injuries are or where in the province people were injured, said Dr. Cynthia Qian, a Montreal-based ophthalmologist specializing in the retina.

More studies on each case are needed, but the more common issue people face is temporary eye discomfort, she said, though permanent damage is possible. She said since the eclipse is a rare event, this is the first time such detailed data is being collected across the province. 

“We’re learning through the process as well,” Qian said, noting there was a strong effort to warn the public about safely viewing the eclipse beforehand. “We hope that the damages are reversible or kept to the lowest number possible thanks to the public service announcements.”

After the 2017 eclipse, there were more than 100 reported cases of severe solar retinopathy in the United States, she said.

A quick glance at the sun isn’t likely to cause damage, but several glances do add up.

People smiling up at the sky wearing protective glasses.
Thousands of people gathered at Jean-Drapeau park on Saint-Hélène Island in Montreal to watch the total solar eclipse on April 8. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

If you look at the sun unprotected, you can very quickly reach a “threshold exposure” and initiate the process of eclipse retinopathy, said Dr. Ralph Chou, a leading expert on eclipse eye safety.

“A couple of seconds, two or three say, to just quickly look at the sun, like we often do when we go outside and so on, doesn’t do any harm,” said Chou.

But in the course of three hours of a solar eclipse, if you do that enough, they all add up, and you can eventually accumulate enough energy dosage to get you over that critical threshold for injury, he said.

When this is happening, it’s painless, even if the retina is severely damaged, he said.

Basically, when someone stares too much, the sun is being focused on a very small part of the film in the back of the eye, said Dr. Phil Hooper, president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society.

“The retina and the amount of energy being supplied to that area is far more than can be tolerated and the cells are damaged, and so you end up with a permanent area in the very centre of your vision that doesn’t work properly,” he said.



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