How to Watch the Great American Solar Eclipse without Damaging Your Vision

The first complete solar eclipse to span the United States in 99 years will occur on Monday, August 21. If you plan to join the millions of people viewing the sight of the century, it is important to protect your eyes.

Rule No. 1: Never look directly at the sun without proper eye protection — even for a few minutes. You can seriously damage your vision.

“As children, we used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s light in order to burn holes in leaves or paper,” said Harry W. Flynn, Jr., M.D., an ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, where residents will see a nearly 80 percent eclipse. “Looking directly at the sun without protecting your eyes has a similar effect on your retina. In fact, the natural lenses in your eyes are much stronger than a magnifying glass. Your retina is very light-sensitive, so staring at the sun for even a short period without wearing the proper eye protection can leave a burn on your retina. It may even cause vision loss, called solar retinopathy,”

The only way you can safely look directly at the sun is to wear special-purpose solar equipped glasses or hand-held viewers fitted with special solar filters.

“Only children who are old enough to follow instructions and keep their solar-eclipse glasses on should be allowed to watch the eclipse under adult supervision,” says Craig A. McKeown, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at Bascom Palmer, which is a Center of Excellence at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Parents of babies and toddlers should remain inside with the children and consider watching the eclipse on television.”

Everyone who watches the eclipse directly must wear solar glasses. If you will be watching with children, explain to them that they must keep the special glasses on and should not stare directly at the sun because it can hurt their eyes. It may be helpful to explain that wearing their special glasses is the only way to see the moon moving in front of the sun. Without the glasses, the sunlight will be too bright and they will not be able to see the fine detail of what is occurring. The eclipse is a long event, so make sure their glasses stay on the entire time they are outdoors. They can remove the glasses if they go indoors but must put them back on to look at the sun.

Solar Eclipse Eye Safety Tips
1. Ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun. They are not strong enough to protect your eyes.

2. To safely view a partial eclipse, wear official eclipse viewing glasses that meet International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 12312-2 safety standards. A list of reputable vendors can be found here. Beware of fraudulent eclipse glasses that do not meet safety standards.

3. If you wear regular eyeglasses, place the solar eclipse glasses on top of them.

4. Supervise children using the special glasses to make sure they use them correctly Adjust your child’s glasses to fit his or her face properly. If the glasses are too big, cut and tape them at the nose to make them smaller.

5. Do not look at the eclipse through a camera, binoculars or telescope. This is important even if you are wearing eclipse glasses. The intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the solar filter and your eyes.

6. Use solar eclipse filters on camera lenses, binoculars and telescopes. Check the filter before the eclipse and if it is damaged or scratched, replace the filter.

7. Use extra precaution, such as an indirect viewing method, if you are taking a medication that dilates your pupils. This reduces the time it takes to injure your eyes.

8. For more information:

• View “How to Safely Watch a Solar Eclipse ” from the American Academy of Ophthalmology here

• To find out when your region will experience the eclipse view this map from the American Astronomical Society

• Visit NASA’s Eclipse 101 here

• View these infographics for more solar eclipse viewing tips

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