Across North America on Monday, August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will be visible to millions of people. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks any part of the sun. As part of this eclipse, some parts of the United Stated will experience a brief total eclipse, when the moon completely blocks the sun’s face for up to 2 minutes, 40 seconds.
However, looking directly at the sun can be very harmful to the eyes. In fact, exposing eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause “eclipse blindness” or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. This exposure to the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain. This damage can be temporary or permanent and occurs with no pain. It can take a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred.
Prevent Blindness, the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health and safety organization, has established a web page and fact sheet with information about an eclipse, potential related dangers to vision, and how to protect your eyes from injury during the event.
Prevent Blindness offers the following tips on how to view the eclipse safely:
- Pinhole projection: This is the safest and most inexpensive way of watching a solar eclipse. This helps you avoid looking directly at the eclipse by using a projected image. This do-it-yourself project includes making a pinhole in a cardboard paper with the sun on one side and a piece of paper to project the image on the other side. Keep in mind not to look through the pinhole at the sun.
- Welder’s glass: Number 14 welder’s glass provides effective protection and can be found at a local welder’s supply store. This glass will reduce the harmful rays that are emitted during the eclipse. Do not use if there are any scratches or damage to the glass.
- Mylar filters: Aluminized Mylar plastic sheets are available as eclipse vision glasses or can be cut and made into a viewing box. Do not use if there are any scratches or damage to the sheet.
- Other ways: Other ways to safely watch a solar eclipse are on television or at a planetarium.
In addition, Prevent Blindness warns against using the following methods:
- Smartphone: Watching a solar eclipse on your smartphone camera can put you at risk of accidentally looking at the sun when trying to line up your camera. It could possibly also damage your smartphone camera. Don’t take the risk.
- Camera viewfinder: Never look at a solar eclipse through the optical viewfinder of a camera. It can damage your eyes in the same way as looking directly at it.
- Unsafe filters: Unless specifically designed for viewing a solar eclipse, no filter is safe to use with any optical device (telescopes, binoculars, sunglasses, etc.).
Prevent Blindness strongly recommends that anyone who plans on viewing the solar eclipse consult an eye care professional to determine the safest viewing option. Anyone who experiences changes in vision or worsening eye pain after viewing the eclipse should seek treatment from an eye doctor immediately.
“By wearing the proper eye protection, everyone can enjoy this amazing spectacle of nature safely,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “We want to encourage the public to take the right precautions in advance to safeguard their eyes from the sun’s powerful rays.”
For more information on how to protect vision during a solar eclipse, please call Prevent Blindness at (800) 331-2020, or visit www.preventblindness.org/solar-eclipse-and-your-eyes.