The total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. But without the right eye protection, the eclipse could also be the last thing you will ever see.
According to NASA, permanent damage to the retina can occur after just 100 seconds of looking at the sun on an ordinary day. But the exact time before damage occurs will vary with the intensity of the sun on a particular day, your individual retinal sensitivity, and whether your pupil is dilated from decongestants or other medications.
During an eclipse the risk of eye damage goes way up, partly because people are so eager to see what is happening, and partly because the sun doesn’t seem as bright during an eclipse so we figure it’s safe to look. It’s not – If you stare at the sun without proper eye protection you will experience “eclipse blindness,” which means you’ve burnt the retinas of your eyes.
NASA notes that even when 99% of the Sun’s surface is hidden during a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may recover your sight after a few months – or within a year or two. Or you may be blind or have profound vision loss forever because you have cooked the tissues of your eyes beyond the point where it can recover.
How Solar Eclipse Viewing Damages Your Eyes
The rods and cones in the human retina are very sensitive to light, and the iris contracts so that only a small amount of light passes through the lens before reaching the retina. Looking directly at the sun overwhelms the ability of the iris to filter light to safe levels – and your retinas get what could be described as a severe sun burn.
The retinas of our eyes have no pain receptors, so you can severely burn them without experiencing any type of warning sensation that would alert you to look away. You may not even notice that you have an eye injury until the day after the eclipse, when you wake up with severely blurred – or no – vision.
You need eye-protection, and you need to use that protection the entire time that you are looking at the eclipse. No taking any quick glances either – they can easily add up to one long look and solar damage.
There is one exception – the brief moments when the eclipse is at “totality” and the moon entirely blocks the sun. This will occur only in a specific, narrow path across the country from Oregon to South Carolina. If you happen to be within that path, it’s safe to look during – and only during – totality.
Choosing Safe Eye Protection For The Eclipse
So, you’re convinced that you need to protect your eyes during the eclipse. Excellent! Now you need to choose the right eclipse viewers.
Your regular sunglasses, no matter how dark the lenses, will not shield your eyes from sun damage while you’re viewing the eclipse. Homemade filters aren’t going to work either.
What you need is either a set of “eclipse glasses” or a handheld solar viewer. To protect your eyes, these items need to have verified compliance with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.
Sadly, many vendors are offering bogus products that may make for cute souvenirs but will NOT protect your eyes. Some are even making false claims about their products compliance to ISO 12312-2 standard. Only purchase products made by trustworthy manufacturers, sold by trusted retailers. The American Astronomy Society has a list of safe eclipse viewers and vendors.
The Right Way To Use Eclipse Eye Protection
- Carefully check your eclipse glasses or solar filter before using it, if it is scratched or otherwise damaged it won’t protect your eyes and should be discarded.
- Do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device even while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer. Get the right filters for your devices.
- NASA suggests that people should talk to an expert astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Attending an eclipse event where experts will help you view and photograph the eclipse safely is a great idea.
- If you normally wear eyeglasses, put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.
- Always supervise children using eclipse glasses or solar filters.
Taking Good Care Of Your Eyes Every Day
Protecting your eyes should be regular habit, not a special event. More than 11 million Americans currently have an uncorrected visual impairment that can impact their quality of life, according to the National Eye Institute. Sadly, many people skip getting help for their eye problems because they feel that they can’t afford to get an eye exam and corrective lenses.
DentalPlans.com offers affordable alternatives to traditional health insurance, including vision care savings plans. These plans enable members to save significantly on the cost of eye exams, glasses, contact lenses, even LASIK surgery at thousands of eye care facilities – both national chains and local providers – nationwide. And many dental plans – such as those offered by Aetna and Cigna – include a vision care plan at no extra cost, enabling you to save on both dental and vision care!
To find out more about vison care savings plans, visit dentalplans.com or call 1-800-238-5163.