On August 21, 2017, millions of people from all over the world will descend upon a handful of cities across the United States to witness an event that doesn’t come along every day – the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. As the moon slowly passes in front of the sun, it will block out the light for a period of time (depending on where you are, it could be several minutes).
While you want to experience the excitement and wonder of nature, it is also important to take certain safety precautions. According to The Solar Eclipse of 2017—A (Protected) View From the Path of Totality, ophthalmologists warn that staring directly at the sun, even during an eclipse when it is partially blocked, can do serious damage to your eyes. If you are subject to light sensitivity, the odd glare of a partially blocked sun can bother your eyes even more than usual.
Don’t Look into the Light
Even a partially obscured sun can cause serious damage to the eyes. This is because the sun’s light is extremely intense. You can burn your eyes – literally. Staring at the sun can cause what is called a solar retinopathy or retinal photochemical injury. The bright light from the sun affects the retinas, destroying cells that allow you to see. When you look at the sun, even during an eclipse when you don’t see the full light of the sun, without proper, protective eyewear, you risk doing serious damage to your eyes. It isn’t worth it.
The thing is, it may take a day or so before you even realize that you’ve damage your eyes. You may function through the day with perfectly fine vision, only to wake the next morning and be unable to read your morning newspaper. About half of people with eclipse blindness regain their sight – many do not or they have impaired vision for the rest of their lives. No matter what, it is vital that you do not look at the eclipse without protective eyewear.
How to Safely View the Eclipse
Eclipse glasses or viewers are the only safe way to view the eclipse at its partial stages. Sunglasses and similar glasses won’t do. They must meet the international standard ISO 12312-2. You can create your own eclipse viewer by building a pinhole camera.
Do not look at the sun while putting on your eclipse glasses. Look away, at the ground or away from the sun, put on the glasses, then look at the eclipse. Never remove your glasses while looking at the sun.
Some sources say that once the moon is completely blocking the sun, you can safely remove your eclipse glasses. However, experts contend that for most people too much of the sun will still be visible and can still cause damage. It is best not to risk it.
Tips for Light Sensitivity and the Solar Eclipse
People who are sensitive to light may find that the off glare of the sun during the solar eclipse is particularly distressing. The light can also bounce off of surfaces that it normally doesn’t, creating an unnatural glare that can exacerbate your photophobia.
If your eyes are sensitive to light, try these tips:
- You should keep your eclipse glasses on throughout the eclipse (this is what doctors recommend for all viewers, but especially for those with light sensitivity). This will allow your adjustment to the varying light stages to be gradual and natural.
- When viewing the eclipse with glasses, give your eyes a break every minute or so. Just look down, away from the light to let your eyes relax.
- If you find that the light is simply too bothersome, move indoors. It is better to protect your eyes and avoid a potential migraine than to try to force yourself to sit through something that can be painful and cause discomfort.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim that will provide extra shade for your eyes.
- A pinhole camera may be a better option than looking directly at the eclipse. Keep in mind though, that the glare of the sun will still be present and the only way to really avoid it is to stay inside.
If you suffer from general light sensitivity, Axon Optics has a wide range of eyeglass styles that feature FL-41 precision tint lenses, developed specifically for people who are sensitive to light.
No matter what you do during the eclipse, make sure that you keep safety as your first priority. Your eyes are worth it.