Like many others, 26-year-old Nia Payne wanted to see the historic August solar eclipse but she did not have a pair of goggles. She walked outside on Staten Island and looked at the sun – 70 percent was covered – for about six seconds before deciding she needed eye protection.
He borrowed a pair of glasses that looked like an eclipse from someone nearby, then looked directly at the sun for 15 to 20 seconds.
They were not the appropriate glasses.
For two days after, Payne saw a black spot, shaped like a half moon similar to the eclipse itself, at the center of his vision. Finally, she went to the emergency room and was referred to the New York Eyes and Ears infirmary in Mount Sinai, where the doctors performed a detailed scan of her retinas.
What they found surprised them and led them to a study published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology.
The black spot in his vision and the corresponding damage to his retina were mirror images of the eclipse itself. He showed that the "intuitions of the scientists were correct" in their theories about how the sun damages the eye, said Avnish Deobhakta, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Mount Sinai and co-author of the study, to The Washington Post in a telephone interview.  Doctors have long known of solar retinopathy, which is a "rare form of retinal injury that results from direct sunstroke," the study said. It occurs when the sun's energy essentially burns the retina. It can happen even when the sun is obscured by the moon during a solar eclipse, because many of the sun's rays still reach the Earth.
Mount Sinai doctors quickly diagnosed Payne with this injury, which was much worse in his left eye.
They asked him to draw the black spot he saw on a piece of paper. It was a half moon that looked a lot like the eclipse itself.
The doctors decided to take a closer look.  Mount Sinai has an accurate imaging machine that uses adaptive optics, which can examine the individual cells of the retina.
The machine recently became an ophthalmology tool. According to Deobhakta, no previously published research showed what he found in patients whose eyes were damaged by a solar eclipse.
The researchers looked closely at the photoreceptor layer of the retina, which is the part that "takes in sunlight and converts it into electrical energy so that our brains can make sense of light," Deobhakta said.
The sun had burned a half moon in his retina, as in the image he drew.
"What we found is that the sun's rays had damaged the photoreceptor's layer in a very specific pattern, like a crescent moon," said Deobhakta. "It really aligned with what she drew for us when we saw her for the first time."
He said the finding is significant because it could be the first step to discovering a treatment for this type of injury, which is not that uncommon. While most people instinctively move away from the sun and solar eclipses are extremely rare, the type of laser pointers that children play with and pet owners can cause similar injuries.
So far, this type of damage is irreversible, something Payne knows very well.
He is currently training to focus primarily with his right eye. She has to sit near the television to watch it and reading is still a challenge.
The black crescent never disappears. And there is a shame that goes with it.
"So far, it's a nightmare, and sometimes it makes me very sad when I close my eyes and see it," Payne told CNN. "It's embarrassing, people will assume that I was just one of those people who stared at the sun or who did not check the person with the glasses."
"It's something I have to live with for the rest of my life" , he added.
This study could be the first step to make sure you do not.
"There is no treatment on the horizon, but the horizon is only seen when it can be seen, and I think that is what the images help us do," Deobhakta told CNN
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