Shortly after a total solar eclipse swept across America on Monday, many eclipse gazers took to social media to complain about their eyes hurting or burning. For many viewers, that raised the question of whether they had permanently hurt their eyes by looking at the eclipse.
While anyone who is concerned may want to visit an eye doctor for an official diagnosis, the short answer is that it’s likely too soon after the eclipse to observe any damage to your eyes.
Starting directly at the sun during the partial phase of the eclipse without wearing special eclipse glasses could harm the retina, damaging the images your brain can view. The phenomenon is called “eclipse blindness,” experts say. While it can cause temporary or permanent vision impairment, it wouldn’t cause any pain shortly after viewing the eclipse.
In fact, there are no immediate symptoms associated with damage to the retina, which doesn’t have any pain receptors, ophthalmologists say. Symptoms begin occurring 12 hours after viewing the eclipse, when people wake up in the morning and notice their vision has been altered, TIME previously reported.
“They can’t see faces in the mirror, they can’t read the newspaper or the smartphone display, they’re having trouble looking at road signs, and basically they’ve got this center spot in their vision that is intensely blurred,” said Dr. B. Ralph Chou, the president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and a former optometry professor.
Chou also said it’s impossible to go completely blind from staring at the eclipse with the naked eye, though it is possible to become legally blind.
Still, people posted concerns about their eyesight on social media immediately following the eclipse.
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