Updated on  February 21, 2024
5 min read

What Is a Retina Burn, and What Are the Symptoms?

7 sources cited
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The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye. It’s vital to the health of our vision, and any damage to the retina is a medical emergency as it can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness if not treated immediately.

This article discusses what a retina burn is and its symptoms. It also discusses the treatment options you’ll likely receive to treat this injury.

What is a Retina Burn?

A retina burn is a type of damage similar to a severe sunburn on the skin. Some damage to the retina, including a burn, is considered a medical emergency as it can lead to permanent vision loss or even blindness if not treated immediately.

Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing sudden vision loss after an eye injury or exposure to harsh chemicals.

Aside from a retina burn, other forms of retina damage include:

  • Macular degeneration. A disease that affects your central vision 
  • Retinal detachment. When the retina peels back from the back of the eye
  • Diabetic retinopathy. Damage to the blood vessels in the retina 
  • Retinoblastoma. Cancer of the retina

What are the Common Causes of Retina Burns?

Retina burns are usually associated with looking directly into the sun without proper eye protection, such as during a solar eclipse. This kind of retina burn is called solar retinopathy.

Solar retinopathy is caused by high-intensity light wavelengths absorbed by the retina’s light-sensitive cells, leading to damage and visual disturbances.  

Sources of artificial light can also lead to retina burns, including:

  • Welding
  • Operating an ophthalmic microscope
  • Lighting systems used during surgery
  • Laser pointers 
  • Tanning bed lights

Chemical eye burns caused by alkali chemicals (found in everyday household products) can also lead to retina damage, causing optic nerve damage and glaucoma (increased eye pressure).

Who is Most At Risk for Retina Burns?

People who work or spend time in the sun without wearing protective eyewear are at a higher risk of developing a retina burn. 

People who use dangerous equipment that can cause retina damage (for example, a welder) are also at an increased risk for a retina burn.

Other risk factors include:

  • History of eye surgery
  • Have a family history of retinal problems
  • Have uncontrolled diabetes
  • Have suffered an eye injury

What are the Symptoms of a Retina Burn?

Retinal burns can occur in less than two minutes of looking directly at the sun. Symptoms typically develop within a few hours after the injury. 

Common symptoms of a retina burn include:

  • Blind spot in one or both eyes
  • Abnormal color vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Warping of your central vision 
  • Objects appear smaller than they are
  • Headaches
  • Straight lines appearing wavy

If you develop these symptoms after looking directly at the sun or other dangerous sources of artificial light, you should seek prompt treatment from a medical eye doctor (ophthalmologist). 

Are There Warning Signs of Retinal Damage?

Since the retina does not have pain receptors, you typically will not have eye pain associated with a retinal tear or burn. 

However, you will notice specific changes in your vision, including:

  • Seeing flashing lights
  • New floaters
  • Shadows in your peripheral vision
  • A black curtain coming down over your eyesight 

Any damage to the retina is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately by a medical professional.

How is a Retina Burn Diagnosed?

A retina burn is diagnosed by taking a detailed medical and family history with a list of recent symptoms, followed by a comprehensive eye exam.

Your eyes will be dilated to view the retina, or an eye specialist might use a machine to take a picture of your retina that they can then review for damage.

Other tests that help determine the severity of damage include:

  • Visual field test
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) to look for specific changes to the retina
  • Fluorescein angiography to look at blood flow to the retina

What Treatments Are Available for Retina Burns?

There is no cure for retina burns. Sometimes, they will heal independently after 3-6 months, but there is a chance for permanent damage and vision loss. Steroids have been used to help treat retina burns, but there is no consistent evidence that this is effective.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience symptoms after looking directly at the sun, exposure to a chemical eye injury, or prolonged use of artificial light sources. A licensed eye doctor can diagnose injury and provide a plan of care.

Prevention is the best way to avoid a retina burn. This includes wearing protective eyewear when looking directly at the sun or using equipment that can cause eye damage.

Can Laser Therapy Aid in Treating Retina Burns?

Laser surgery might be a treatment option if there is a retinal tear or detachment. A laser makes small burns around the tear. The scar tissue that develops will help hold the retina in place.

How Can Retina Burns Be Prevented and Managed?

The best way to prevent a retina burn is not to look directly at the sun without proper eye protection. Eye protection is critical in working with dangerous equipment and artificial light that can lead to retinal damage.

Obtaining immediate medical attention after an eye injury is the best way to ensure that symptoms do not worsen and prevent permanent vision loss.


A retinal burn is damage to the retina caused by looking directly into the sun, such as during a solar eclipse. Symptoms of a retinal burn include blind spots, blurred vision, sudden vision loss, and squiggly lines. 

There is no cure for a retina burn, but healing may occur independently after a few months. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of retinal damage to avoid permanent vision loss or even blindness.

Updated on  February 21, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on  February 21, 2024
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Retina,” 2020. 
  2. Chod, R., et al. “Solar retinopathy.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2023.
  3. Review of Optometry. “Patient blinded in Holland,” 2009. 
  4. Harvard Medical School. “Researchers identify mechanism of retina damage following chemical eye burns,” 2017. 
  5. American Academy for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. “Solar retinopathy,” 2022. 
  6. Boyd, K. “ What is a torn retina?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2023.
  7. National Eye Institute. “Laser surgery and freeze treatment for retinal tears,” 2020.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.