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For eye health, pay attention to selfies and the use of smartphones and tablets in bright sunlight

November 03, 2023
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For eye health, pay attention to selfies and the use of smartphones and tablets in bright sunlight

It is called solar maculopathy and it is a damage, sometimes irreversible, which can affect the retina when it is hit by an excessive amount of solar rays. This can happen, for example, when we stare at the sun or the eclipse with the naked eye. But pay attention to some very common habits nowadays, such as reading from a tablet or mobile phone outdoors, in full light and without appropriate protection, or even taking selfies, by trying to capture the sun's rays full in the face. Let's try to understand better, based on the results of a very recent scientific research conducted by Spanish scholars and on the alarm raised by Siso, which is the Italian society of ophthalmological sciences (Marticorena et al, J Med Case Rep, 2022 - SISO).

Solar maculopathy, what it is and causes

Solar maculopathy is a form of acquired maculopathy resulting from direct observation of the sun. The main symptoms are central scotoma, which is a black spot that appears in the center of the visual field, blurred vision and, in some cases, even wavy vision. The reason is to be found in damage, induced by solar rays, to the photoreceptors of the retina. Sometimes the damage is irreversible, but sometimes, if the damage is not extensive, it is possible to recover one's visual faculties. Until now it was thought that solar maculopathy resulted solely from direct observation of the sun, as can also happen while taking selfies, but now a new alarm is being raised resulting from the incorrect use of tablets and smartphones. Let's see what the Spanish research says.

Damage to the retina due to incorrect use of tablets and smartphones

Scientists report two cases of solar maculopathy induced by reading tablets and smartphones in conditions that are unhealthy for the eyes. The first case is represented by a thirty-year-old man who had read for 4 hours from his tablet on a terrace of a ski center in the high mountains on a clear day. The second is represented by a twenty-year-old girl who had been reading from her smartphone for 3 hours while she was on the beach on a sunny day. Neither of them had stared directly at the sun. Both complained of central scotoma and reduction of vision due, as emerged from diagnostic investigations, to a solar maculopathy. After two years, the man managed to recover his sight, although one eye still showed a slight alteration. It is believed that, in the case of humans, the damage was not so extensive and had not reached the nucleus of the photoreceptors, allowing regeneration. Instead, the girl still had a significant alteration in her vision and retina, considered irreversible. The cause of this type of solar maculopathy, as scientists say, can be traced back to the characteristic of tablets and smartphones to function as a mirror for light rays, channeling them onto the retina where the damage occurs.

Conclusions and warnings

The study is very recent and reports only two cases of solar maculopathy caused by solar rays reflected by tablet and mobile phone screens. The topic is debated and there are also those who oppose this explanation, stating that the mirror effect of these devices is not yet certain. In any case, these results must make us think and convince us to pay attention when we use tablets and smartphones outdoors and under the sun. While waiting for science to clarify, it is important to always protect your eyes outdoors with good quality sunglasses, avoid prolonged use of tablets and smartphones outside the home, especially if you are not wearing sunglasses, and, as also indicated by Siso experts, avoid taking selfies while looking at the sun. A successful shot can earn you a lot of likes but it can cause you to lose health and the damage, sometimes, is really too great.

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