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Eye Safety During an Annular Solar Eclipse: What an Optometrist Wants You to Know

There will be an annular solar eclipse on October 14 (Saturday) which will be visible. According to NASA, it will start in Oregon and end a few hours later in Texas, also affecting Nevada, Utah and New Mexico, as well as parts of California, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona. It will also affect parts of Central and South America.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon slips between the sun and Earth, but at a distance that leaves the sun only partially covered, resulting in a cool “ring of fire” look. And while you probably already know that it’s important to wear protective eyewear when doing any of these activities, it bears repeating. According to Dr. Ronald Benner, president of the American Optometric Association, dangerous viewing of a solar eclipse can cause solar retinopathy, a type of retinal damage that he likened to sunburn on the “satellite dish.” of the eye.” Failure to wear proper eye protection will allow a dangerous amount of ultraviolet radiation to penetrate and damage the macular tissue of the retina.

“Once it’s burned and scarred, it’s a bad thing,” Benner said.

Here’s how a solar eclipse could damage your eyes, how to view it safely, and tips for finding the right glasses.

Detail of the annular eclipse 74

This NASA photo shows an annular solar eclipse photographed in 2012.

Bill Dunford/NASA

Solar Retinopathy: What Happens to Your Eyes If You Watch a Solar Eclipse?

Simply put, solar retinopathy is damage to the retina. Benner said damage usually takes six to 12 hours to appear. Common symptoms include blurred vision, blind spots, distorted color vision, or distorted vision.

If you notice these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately to identify the source of your vision problems. But according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is “no known beneficial treatment” for this disease, only prevention.

Many patients will return to normal visual acuity within a few months, although this can be uncertain. But Benner adds that recovery can take up to six months or a year, and sometimes people don’t fully recover and their visual acuity is affected.

Is there anyone who might be more susceptible to solar retinopathy? No, Benner said.

“Every individual is unique,” ​​Benner said, but no one is immune to damage to delicate parts of the eye. In other words, don’t think you’ll be able to fly a summit safely because you don’t burn the sun often.

“When it comes to retinal tissue, it’s so different,” he said.

There’s also no specific length of time you can look at the sun before risking retinal damage. According to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, even a few seconds can cause permanent damage.

A person wearing a yellow sweatshirt and wearing solar eclipse glasses outdoors

Léo Patrizi/Getty Images

How to Find Solar Eclipse Glasses and Avoid Counterfeits

Now that the worst-case scenario is out of the way, let’s move on to how to actually protect your eyes during a solar eclipse. And no, sunglasses won’t be enough. According to NASA, solar glasses or eclipse glasses are thousands of times darker than sunglasses.

The American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology advise looking for glasses that have received approval from the American Astronomical Society. The AAS includes eyewear that meets the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 12312-2 standard. Importantly, the AAS notes that counterfeit glasses or those that do not meet safety standards may also claim it or use it as their logo. So stick to the list of safest sellers and don’t just rely on searching for this number.

There is a very long list, but some brands/vendors recommended by the AAS are:

Some Walmart, Lowes and Home Depot stores sell glasses in-store that meet safety standards, the AAS says, but that’s not possible.
guarantee that the glasses sold online by these stores are also legitimate, because they can use another seller for the products online. It’s worth stopping by one of these stores to see what they have in stock if you’re looking for glasses last minute.

Another way to get safety glasses: You may be able to pick up a free pair at your local library, using this interactive map of participating libraries, provided by the AAS.

You won’t see sites like Amazon in the AAS’s recommendations, and there’s a reason for that: poorly tested glasses have been sold on the platform in the past. If you go this route, the AAS recommends making sure the seller is “identified on the site” and “listed on this page.” Soluna is an AAS-approved eyewear seller that offers products on Amazon, which links directly to Amazon pages. (Use this link for a 2 pack for $10this one for a $15 pack of 5 or this one for one $20 pack of 10provided directly by Soluna itself.) However, keep in mind the AAS warning regarding marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, and consider giving them additional testing before any eclipse activity (see below).

How to Check Your Solar Eclipse Glasses

Even if you’ve done all the right things by referencing the AAS website to find the right glasses or viewers, it’s a good idea to give them a test run before the main event.

You can do this by putting on your glasses and wearing them near other light sources, such as street lights or car headlights. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you should not be able to see any light in your eclipse glasses except the sun or sunlight reflected in a mirror. If the light shines through, Benner said, “they’re no good.”

For parents of young children, Benner has an extra word of warning: Watch them closely with their glasses on, or just keep them home to watch it on TV.

We adults know not to risk looking at the sun, but that may not be the case for children.


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