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Published on August 02, 2017

Keep Your Eyes Safe While Watching the Solar Eclipse

Keep Your Eyes Safe While Watching the Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will occur across North America. The last solar eclipse that crossed the United States was on June 8, 1918. It is a once in a lifetime event.

A solar eclipse is when the central disk of the sun is completely obscured by the moon. The path of total coverage of the sun is going to be approximately 70 miles wide. The eclipse should last nearly three minutes. Although the Piedmont will not be in the path of total coverage (total coverage will occur along the North Carolina-South Carolina border), we should still have an amazing view of the eclipse.

How to Watch Safely

To watch the eclipse safely, you will need eye protection. NASA recommends using solar-viewing glasses, eclipse glasses or personal solar filters that meet the current international standard ISO 12312-2. These eye protection devices can be purchased for as little as $1. If you plan on using a camera, telescope or binoculars, you will need solar filters for those as well.

  • Standard sunglasses will not keep your eyes safe.
  • Inspect your glasses or solar filter before you use them. It they are scratched or damaged, do not use. Remember to always supervise children who are using these items.
  • To use your glasses or filter, look down and cover your eyes with it before looking up at the sun. While you are looking, do not remove the protection from your eyes. After watching the eclipse, turn away and remove your eye protection.
  • It is possible to view the total eclipse with no filter when the sun is completely covered by the moon. This totality will not be seen in the Piedmont, so keep those filters on.
  • Do not watch the eclipse through an unfiltered camera, telescope or binoculars as these optical devices offer no solar protection and magnify light.

What Happens if You Don't Protect Your Eyes?

The radiation from the sun floods the retina in the back of the eye releasing a flood of chemicals that can damage the retina when light-sensing cells become overwhelmed. Since this damage is painless, people often do not realize what is happening. If you have damage you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Watery and sore eyes
  • Difficulty in seeing the shape and detail of objects
  • Discomfort with bright light
  • Objects may appear unusually colored
  • Objects may be distorted

Depending on the length of exposure to the sun’s rays, the damage may be mild and return to normal after a time. Too much exposure will cause permanent damage. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to seek the care of an ophthalmologist.

About the Author

Carroll Haines, MDCarroll Haines, MD is a retired Cone Health Ophthalmologist.