Protect your eyes while viewing the upcoming solar eclipse

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A solar eclipse will be visible across the United States on Aug. 21 for the first time since 1918. While the eclipse is certainly exciting, looking directly at it can cause permanent damage to your eyes. With a few simple precautions, you can view this rare astronomical event while ensuring the safety of your vision.

 

How the Eclipse Affects Your Eyes

An eclipse occurs when the earth, moon and sun are aligned. As the sun moves across the sky, it is blocked by the moon to create an eclipse. Although a total eclipse will be visible for a few minutes in a small part of the U.S., we will see a partial eclipse in Northeast Florida during the early afternoon on Aug. 21.  

During the partial eclipse, most of the sun will be covered, but part of it will still be visible. This means there is a chance for serious eye damage. The sun is never safe to look at because it emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation – powerful invisible wavelengths shorter than visible light – that can damage the cells in the eye. Overexposure to UV radiation can increase the risk of serious eye diseases like cataracts, macular degeneration, growths on the eye and cancer.

However, the chief concern with the eclipse is “eclipse blindness” or retinal burns. The retina converts light into neural signals and sends these signals to the brain so that it can interpret what you’re seeing. When the retina is exposed to intense UV lights, it damages the cells inside, which can lead to temporary or permanent vision loss.

 

How to Keep Your Eyes Safe

To safely view the eclipse, you will need special purpose solar filter glasses, which are specifically designed to block solar UV radiation. Regular sunglasses, no matter how dark the lenses, will not provide you with protection.  

You can buy these glasses in the store, but when you do, make sure that they comply with international standard ISO 12312-2. If they don’t, they may not be true eclipse glasses. You can test them by looking through them at normal lights. If they are real eclipse glasses, you will not be able to see ordinary lights. 

On the day of the eclipse, make sure your glasses are free of any scratches or damage. Then, put them on before you look at the eclipse and turn your head away before removing them. With the glasses, you will be able to view the eclipse for as long as you want without discomfort or damage.   

 

Other Ways to Protect Your Eyes

The solar eclipse isn’t the only time you need to take care of your vision. Living in the sunshine state means it’s always a good idea to protect your eyes from the sun, especially during the summer. The best ways to do so are by wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats. Sunglasses should absorb and block 99 percent of UV lights and be large enough to shield your eyes, eyelids and surrounding areas. For hats, look for ones with at least a 3-inch brim, as they can block nearly half of UV lights. As with all eye-related issues, you should regularly see an eye doctor for check-ups.

This is the time of year we love to be outdoors, and the solar eclipse is certain to make this summer a memorable one. By following these easy tips, you can fully enjoy these experiences while maintaining the health of your eyes.

 

Dr. S. Akbar Hasan is a Ponte Vedra resident and a board-certified, fellowship-trained ophthalmologist at Florida Eye Specialists. For more information on Dr. Hasan and his practice, visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com. 

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