If you’re hoping to see the eclipse, remember to protect your eyes
Editor’s Note: The following is the fifth in an ongoing series about preparations for the full solar eclipse on Aug. 21 in eastern Idaho.
IDAHO FALLS — Staring at the sun is never a good idea. But what about staring at a partial sun during the eclipse?
Well that’s just as bad.
Local eye doctors say the sun is the sun, even if it’s just a little sliver poking out from behind the moon during the eclipse, and it can cause just as much eye damage as staring at a full view of the sun.
So come Aug. 21, make sure you already have eye protection ready to go because it’s not likely you’ll be able to find some eclipse glasses last minute. Local eye doctors warn those wanting to view the eclipse to not get caught on eclipse day without proper eye protection.
Dr. Jason Merrell, of The Eye Care Center in Idaho Falls and Rexburg, said when you look at the sun for too long, you can get what is essentially a sunburn of the eye. Unfortunately, while it is happening you usually don’t feel pain, so you don’t realize right away and stop looking.
The degree of the “eye sunburn” will depend on the person and how long they looked at the sun. Over the years, some eye doctors have even been able to see crescent shape damage in the eye from eclipse viewing.
“Snow skiers experience something similar to this, known as snow blindness or photokeratitis,” Merrell said. That condition is an inflammation of the cornea due to secondary UV exposure from sun reflecting on the snow into the eye.
Solar retinopathy is the condition associated with staring straight at the sun, and is a burn to the eye’s foveal area due to excessive exposure to UV light, which mimics that of age-related macular degeneration.
“If it’s just some burning of the eye, then that can be healed over time,” Merrell explained. “But if you stare at the sun too long, it can cause damage to the macula, and that’s irreversible.”
How long is too long? Even just a few seconds can cause some damage. Look at the sun long enough and you could potentially go blind. Merrell and other area eye doctors are trying to educate patients the best they can; still they anticipate some may call the week after the eclipse complaining of pain.
“Some think they can just wear sunglasses and that will be enough,” said Alison Youngstrom, optical manager at The Eye Care Center. “I’m fearful for those who aren’t taking precautions.”
Wearing eclipse glasses are the best way to protect your eyes during an eclipse, and most are pretty inexpensive. They have a special filter that blocks the harmful rays of the sun. When you look through those specialized lenses it will be completely black, except where the sun is.
Susan Thomas of the American Optometric Association said they are urging people to wear eclipse glasses with the proper ISO. When buying eclipse glasses, be sure they are marked as meeting the ISO 12312-2 (sometimes written as ISO 12312-2:2015) international standard. Do not use if the glasses are ripped or scratched.
People should wear eclipse glasses anytime they look up at the sun during the eclipse, even if just a tiny spec of the sun is peaking around the moon. The only time they should take those glasses off are the short minute or so during the totality — when the sun is 100 percent covered. Once that is done, have those glasses ready to put back on.
Dr. Jared Ivie of Family Vision in Idaho Falls said they are worried people won’t take eye protection seriously. And while eye professionals are concerned about everyone planning to view the eclipse, there is one segment of the population at greatest risk of eye damage.
“My biggest concerns are with kids, especially little kids,” said Ivie. “They have the highest probability of eye damage. Younger eyes don’t have as developed protection. As we get older the lens behind the eye starts to yellow a bit and acts as a filter to block out some of those UV rays. When you’re young, it’s as clear as can be. Also, younger kids tend to have bigger pupils.”
The other consideration with children is that they will do what they see adults doing on eclipse day — look up at the sun. They won’t know it’s bad to look at the sun without eclipse glasses unless the adults around them make sure they wear them. “They don’t know better,” Ivie added.
“If damage is intense enough, damage photo receptors (nerves) can’t repair themselves. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s ultra tempting just to take a quick glance, but doesn’t take long at all for eye damage to occur. We are creatures of pain and since the eye pain won’t be immediate, we won’t react right away. Don’t even glance at it for a second. It’s not worth it.”
If you’re hoping to look at the eclipse through a telescope, binoculars, or camera lens, also be aware that you can damage your eyes looking through those lenses unless you use proper filters. Those specialized filters are to be attached to the front of those devices’ lenses, according to the American Astronomical Society. Filters that instruct the user to put them at the eye viewing end will not be strong enough and won’t protect the eye.