The Irish Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009
A Galway eye surgeon has described as “unprecedented” the rise in the number of cases of an eye condition which he says can be directly attributed to people staring at the sun during recent events at the Knock shrine.
Dr Eamonn O’Donoghue, a consultant ophthalmologist surgeon in University Hospital Galway, says the hospital would usually see one case of solar retinopathy “at most” per year.
However, this year there have been five such cases, all of which have been linked to events at Knock.
Dr O’Donoghue said people needed to be warned of the condition as it was “potentially very, very dangerous” and could cause long-term damage to the most vulnerable part of the eye.
“These people came in because they have had a significant reduction in their vision and they could very well be a smaller representative sample,” Dr O’Donoghue said, adding that two of those who had presented to the hospital had also reported that other members of their families had suffered visual damage.
“It can potentially lead to blindness with prolonged exposure,” Dr O’Donoghue said. While he was unaware how the events were organised, he said, it would be “profoundly irresponsible” for anyone to encourage people to stare at the sun.
About 10,000 people attended a supposed apparition of the Virgin Mary at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo on October 31st. At this, and at a similar event on October 11th, people claimed to see the sun shimmering, changing colour and “dancing in the sky”.
Another apparition has been forecast by visionary Joe Coleman for this Saturday at 3pm. Attempts to contact Mr Coleman last night were unsuccessful.
Solar retinopathy, or eclipse retinopathy as it is also known, affects the macula and can cause a significant reduction in vision.
It can also lead to altered images, altered colour perception and blind spots.
While most people will recover their vision within six months, solar retinopathy has the potential to have a long-term degenerative effect on the retina.
He said that reports of people seeing colours dancing in front of the sun could also be explained by the condition, describing it as “sort of a cheap trick”.
“If you stare at the sun for long enough you’re going to get some visual disturbances. Not only will you get reduced vision but also a condition called metamorphopsia,” he said, adding that this could explain such visual alterations.
“Since the time of Galileo people have known that looking directly at the sun can do damage to your eyes,” Dr O’Donoghue added.