Written by Aly R. Sheraly, M.D.
Board Certified Ophthalmologist
On August 21st 2017, a solar eclipse will occur in the United States of America. It happens when the moon’s path passes between the sun and the earth. Across most of the country, it will occur as a partial eclipse, but in a narrow band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, a total solar eclipse will occur. As the moon passes in front of the sun, it casts a shadow on the earth’s surface and the day becomes night. During this period, the sun’s outer layer will be visible, and will appear as a bright halo with a dark center.
Experiencing this solar eclipse is sure to be a breath-taking experience and many are traveling the country to be in the optimal spots to view the total solar eclipse.
However, looking at the sun can seriously damage the eyes. Staring at the sun on any given day for any period of time without the proper protection can damage the eyes permanently. This becomes especially risky at the time of a solar eclipse. It can result in a condition called Solar Retinopathy. Essentially, the radiation from the sun burns the retina, damaging it permanently. Symptoms include decreased vision or a blind spot or ghost spot in the center of your vision which doesn’t get better.
Here are some guidelines from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/solar-eclipse-eye-safety) and the American Astronomical Society (https://aas.org/education/outreach/eclipse-2017) when preparing to view the Solar Eclipse:
There is only one safe way to look directly at the sun, whether during an eclipse or not: through special-purpose solar filters. These solar filters are used in “eclipse glasses” or in hand-held solar viewers. They must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2.
Keep in mind that ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, or homemade filters are not safe for looking at the sun.
Steps to follow for safely watching a solar eclipse:
- Carefully look at your solar filter or eclipse glasses before using them. If you see any scratches or damage, do not use them.
- Always read and follow all directions that come with the solar filter or eclipse glasses. Help children to be sure they use handheld solar viewers and eclipse glasses correctly.
- Before looking up at the bright sun, stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer. After glancing at the sun, turn away and remove your filter—do not remove it while looking at the sun.
- The only time that you can look at the sun without a solar viewer is during a total eclipse. When the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets dark, you can remove your solar filter to watch this unique experience. Then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear very slightly, immediately use your solar viewer again to watch the remaining partial phase of the eclipse.
- Never look at the un-eclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other similar devices. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses or holding a solar viewer at the same time. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the solar filter and your eyes.
- Talk with an expert astronomer if you want to use a special solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device.
At Eye Specialist of Mid Florida, we take eye care seriously. Please talk with your eye doctor if you have any questions with regard to viewing this special event to ensure you do so as safely as possible. Call or visit our website to make your appointment today.