On August 21st, the skies over a 70 mile wide path from Oregon to South Carolina will darken as the sun is completely blocked by the moon in a rare total solar eclipse. Americans haven’t had a chance to see such a cosmic event since 1979, and 500 million people across North America will experience at least a partial eclipse in action. With such a historic occasion, viewing the eclipse is generating plenty of buzz and doing so safely is of utmost importance. As optometrists, we are the point persons for our community’s concerns and questions about eye health and vision, and many of us will be fielding questions about how to view the eclipse safely as the day draws near. Our podcast with Dr. Omar Punjabi, retinal specialist at Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat, discusses the science behind solar retinopathy and how eclipse glasses give protection that standard eyewear can’t. He answers the top questions your patients will ask, and gives advice on how to best utilize the event for practice marketing!
1. Are sunglasses safe to view the solar eclipse?
No! While sunglasses have UV protection, they don’t have protection against the sun’s non-ionizing radiation. Eclipse glasses must have chromium alloy or aluminum (like Mylar) built into the lenses to be safe.
2. What can happen if I look at the eclipse unprotected?
Solar retinopathy is the chief risk, which can cause lasting vision damage including metamorphopsia or scotoma. A 1999 study published in Nature reported on 15 patients with solar retinopathy after viewing the 1999 solar eclipse over the United Kingdom. Vision outcomes ranged from 20/20 to 20/40 six months after the event.
3. Can I take a picture of the solar eclipse safely?
No! Phone and camera filters are not adequate protection against the sun’s non-ionizing radiation, so viewing the event through a camera lens is not safe protection for the eye. It is also possible that the radiation of the sun could damage the camera lens itself.
4. How will patients know if they caused damage?
Studies show solar retinopathy can occur with as little as 30 seconds of viewing the sun directly, so the chance of injury to the eye is great. Patients may experience symptoms like blurry or distorted vision within minutes to hours after the event. Unfortunately, there is no treatment.
5. Where can I find eyewear that is safe for viewing the solar eclipse?
NASA’s website has a list of approved vendors selling eclipse viewing eyewear with the necessary protection