Purpose Solar retinopathy is a well-recognised clinical entity of macular damage caused by viewing the sun, induced by a photochemical process. The term ‘eclipse retinopathy’ is frequently employed when the condition is sustained as a result of viewing a solar eclipse. Considerable public excitement had been raised in anticipation of the full solar eclipse on 11 August 1999. Whilst experience has shown that visual morbidity is likely to be temporary, current evidence is anecdotal and restricted to isolated case reports and series. This study was conducted to establish the true visual morbidity associated with a solar eclipse, and whether it was temporary or permanent.
Methods A 3 month active case ascertainment study was carried out from July to September 1999 to record cases presenting to ophthalmologists with visual symptoms arising from solar viewing. Further information about the cases was sought using a short questionnaire. A follow-up questionnaire requesting outcome data at 6 months was also employed.
Results There were 70 reported cases of visual loss. The average age was 29.5 ± 12.9 years. Half the cases presented to an ophthalmologist within 2 days of the eclipse. An abnormal macular appearance was reported in 84% of patients at presentation. There have been no reported cases of continued visual loss or symptoms at 6 months.
Conclusions This is the largest nationwide study of the visual effects of a solar eclipse ever undertaken. There were no recorded cases of permanent visual loss, which corroborates the previous evidence that visual morbidity is likely to be temporary. It would appear probable that public health education was most effective in reducing visual morbidity and hence keeping the consequent burden on the NHS to a minimum.