The Sun and Your Eyes: How to Safely View the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

NikkiKlein_thumbBy Nicole Klein, OD – Optometrist at The Eye Center at Southwest Health

Witnessing a solar eclipse can be a memorable experience for all ages. The upcoming eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017 will be the first total eclipse in nearly 40 years. Although here in southwest Wisconsin we are too far north to witness the “path of totality” that cuts across the middle of the United States, we can still view a unique partial eclipse.

The viewing timeframe for the eclipse will vary slightly based on your location, but from the location of Southwest Health in Platteville, WI, the eclipse will begin at 11:48 am on Monday, August 21st and last until 2:36 pm, where at this time the moon will be 89% blocking the sun. Check out timing for your location here.

Solar EclipseEven though this may be a once in a lifetime event, you should never look at the sun without proper eye protection. When UV light from the sun passes into the eye it hits light sensing cells in the retina called photoreceptors. In day to day life, UV rays bounce off surrounding objects and are diminished before reaching the photoreceptors. When you look directly at the sun, however, even for less than a minute, the unfiltered rays can cause permanent visual damage, resulting in a condition called solar retinopathy. Solar retinopathy causes loss or distortion of the center portion of your vision and is irreversible.

So how can you safely view the upcoming eclipse?

• Do not look directly at the eclipse with the naked eye or even with your best sunglasses! Sun damage can occur without you feeling any pain or sensation, meaning you quite literally “won’t see it coming.” So in this case, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
• Use special “eclipse glasses.” The American Astronomical Society has a list of where to buy these. They are selling out fast.
• If you already have a pair of “eclipse glasses,” you can make sure they safely meet recommended guidelines.
• What about welding filters? The only ones that are safe for direct viewing with your eyes are those of Shade 12 or higher. These are much darker than the filters used for most kinds of welding. If you have an old welder’s helmet around the house and are thinking of using it to view the eclipse, make sure you know the filter’s shade number.
• Another way to experience the eclipse if you cannot find “eclipse glasses” is to make a pinhole viewer. Make sure to carefully follow instructions such as those found on NASA’s website.

An eclipse is an example of one of the rare marvels our universe has to offer and you won’t get a chance to experience the next one for almost another decade. Here at the Eye Center at Southwest Health we are dedicated to keeping you experiencing life to the fullest through healthy eyes.

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