Using a new type of imaging, doctors were able to peer into the eyes of a young woman and see — on the cellular level — the type of damage that occurs from looking directly at the sun during an eclipse.

The woman, who is in her 20s, damaged her eyes during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, according to a new report of her case, published today in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

In the woman's case, she told doctors that during the eclipse, she looked at the sun for approximately 6 seconds several different times without protective eyewear, and then again for15 to 20 seconds with a pair of eclipse glasses, according to the case report. She also said she viewed the solar eclipse with both eyes open.

But the woman was not in the path of totality during the eclipse (during totality it is safe to look at the sun without eye protection), and the sun was only 70 percent obscured during the peak of the eclipse in the area that the woman viewed the event. That meant the sun's bright light was still visible and damaging to the eyes.

Four hours after watching the eclipse, the woman said she had blurred vision, a type of distorted vision called metamorphopsia, and color distortion. The symptoms were worse in her left eye, in which she also reported seeing a central black spot, according to the report.

However, it wasn't until three days later that she went to the doctor, who found that she had a condition called solar retinopathy — a rare form of retinal injury that results from direct sungazing, the report said.

Looking into the eyes

Because total solar eclipses are rare, doctors don't often see patients with solar retinopathy, and when they have in the past, they didn't have the same imaging tools available to use.

"We have never seen the cellular damage from an eclipse because this event rarely happens and we haven't had this type of advanced technology to examine solar retinopathy until recently," lead author Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

The new technology, called adaptive optics, allows doctors and researchers "to get an exact look at this retinal damage on such a precise level [which] will help clinicians better understand the condition."