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Solar Retinopathy

As each of the 33 miners saved from the underground disaster in Chile emerged from the rescue capsule, he wore a special type of sunglasses designed to protect against solar retinopathy. Several days later, the miners were still wearing their protective eye gear.


According to Primary Eyecare Associates, this condition is a type of damage to the retina. It’s sometimes also referred to as solar retinitis.

The retina processes light and images that the eye perceives and then transmits them to the brain. It’s located in the back of an individual’s eye. Damage typically occurs when an individual stares at the sun and the body doesn’t generate the reflex that causes blinking and the eyes to close.

When the moon blocks sunlight during a solar eclipse, the resulting view of the sun is only a partial one. However, the ultraviolet rays still emitted at the edges of the eclipse are dangerous and are frequently identified as causes of solar retinopathy.

As the eye takes in an image through the pupil, a lens focuses the image onto the retina, The Eyecare Trust reports. When dangerous radiation from light is concentrated on the back of the eye, it burns the retina and can destroy the cells that allow vision.

Victims of this condition feel no pain as the damage occurs. Later, they might experience sore, watery eyes and have trouble seeing shapes or details. Some have a blind spot in the center of their vision or are uncomfortable in bright light. Colors and shapes might look distorted. Any of these symptoms requires speedy medical care.

In mild to moderate cases of solar retinopathy, an individual’s eyesight might return to completely normal after the eye’s swelling wanes. For severe cases, however, damage can be permanent.

Miners in Chile

Yahoo! reported that because experts were concerned that the 33 trapped Chilean miners might experience solar retinopathy when they returned to the surface, each man was fitted with special protective sunglasses. Each miner looked comfortable, whether it was in daylight or at night, when he stepped out of the rescue capsule.

The Oakley sunglasses were designed to minimize heavy glare. The glasses selected were a wraparound style with the darkest lenses possible. Black iridium coated a gray lens base to protect the miners’ eyes, which were dilated from being underground so long.

These glasses are most often used in performance sports like biking or skiing due to their ability to minimize ultraviolet light. Doctors were concerned that when the miners reached the surface, the cells in their eyes that capture light would deteriorate due to solar retinopathy. At the very least, they assumed that the rescued men would be uncomfortable in the bright light on the surface without some type of protection for their eyes. The model of Oakley sunglasses provided to the miners normally sells for around $180 a pair.