Eye Health and Safety: Don’t Look at the Sun

The Rules Haven't Changed

I have had a lot of people ask me about the total eclipse lately.  Just because there’s a celestial event doesn’t mean it is suddenly safe to look at the sun.

A Serious Question

I got a text a few days ago, and it went something like this:

A question about those paper glasses.  Are they really needed to view the eclipse, or are people just trying to make money?

It’s a valid question.  Especially now that counterfeit eclipse glasses are a problem.  It’s obvious some people will do anything to make a buck, even if it harms others.  Still, I was a little disappointed when I saw who sent me the text.

It was my own mother.

Confusion Reigns

I suppose even if you’re the mom of America’s Visionary Optometrist, you might be confused about what’s safe during the coming eclipse.

I have had patients who think the following eclipse viewing techniques will keep their eyes healthy:

  • Dilation sunglasses (you know, the plastic and paper ones you get from your eye doctor)
  • Regular sunglasses
  • Looking at the sun “quickly,” then looking away

I have also heard about other “techniques” that are really bad ideas, such as looking through:

  • A compact disc
  • Mylar balloon material
  • Solar or “survival” blanket material
  • Tinted glass

None of these techniques will protect your eyes during the eclipse.

How To Stay Safe

If you’re fortunate enough to have ISO certified eclipse glasses, you can use them to view the eclipse as long as you wish.  Just make sure you have a good pair.  If they are fake, you’ll know by looking through them – if you can see anything, they may be counterfeit.  Real eclipse glasses should only let sunlight through.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has a list of reputable vendors of eclipse glasses here.  And if you find yourself without eclipse glasses, you can view the eclipse using a pinhole or optical projector.  The AAS has instructions here.

It’s All About Your Eyes

You need clear vision and healthy eyes for a lifetime.  If you’re living the visual lifestyle, don’t risk it all by ignoring eye safety.

And, just because the eclipse is coming doesn’t mean the rules have changed.  Never look at the sun without proper eye protection.  If you don’t have certified eclipse glasses, then you will need to see the eclipse indirectly.  The only time you can look directly at the solar eclipse is if you are in the path of totality, and the moon is blocking the sun completely.

Protect your eyes properly, and enjoy the eclipse safely.

Question: What are your plans for the eclipse?  Please let me know in the comments below.


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Make Sure You're Ready for the Eclipse

There is a lot of excitement building over the coming eclipse.  If you’re going to see it, will you be doing it safely?

The macula (the dark spot on the left) shows damage (the yellow spot) from the sun in this photo

An Unfortunate Accident

A few weeks ago, I met a patient who looked at the sun for several minutes.  A car accident disoriented her, and she laid in the grass looking at the sky.  She happened to be looking directly at the sun.  When she came to, it was too late.  The damage had been done.

She came to me because she had blurry vision, and was seeing blank spots in her vision.

What did her eyes look like?  Were they terribly red?  Did they have that white film over them like they do in the movies?  Well, no.

She looked completely normal.

Solar Retinopathy

When the eyes are damaged by the sun, it isn’t visible to others.  Sun damage occurs inside the eyes.  And unfortunately, very little can be done to fix it.

The photo above shows the damage to my patient’s eyes.  It’s called solar retinopathy.  The yellow spot in the center of the macula is not supposed to be there.  By staring at the sun, she destroyed the nerves in that spot.  A scanning laser (below) of that same spot shows the areas of damaged nerves.  That gap in the middle means the nerves in that layer are completely gone:

A scanning laser image shows missing nerve tissue due to solar retinopathy

What Will You Be Doing During the Solar Eclipse?

If you plan on seeing the solar eclipse that will happen on August 21st, you will be very tempted to stare at the sun.

Don’t do it.

The only safe way to look at the sun is with a proper sun filter.  These are readily available online, and commonly called “eclipse glasses.”  Do not use eclipse glasses with a camera, telescope, or binoculars, as the filter will not protect you in these situations.  (At LaFollette Eye Clinic, we’re giving a free pair to everyone who purchases glasses in The Eyewear Gallery.)

The team at LaFollette Eye Clinic wearing eclipse glasses

If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you’ll need to see the eclipse indirectly.  One way is by using a pinhole projector. You can also use a mirror to reflect the image of the sun on a flat surface such as a wall.  Only look at the reflection on the wall, not into the mirror!

There is one other way you can see the eclipse without eclipse glasses, and that is only during totality.  If you are in the path of totality you may enjoy a minute or two of a total solar eclipse.  In this case, the moon blocks the sun completely and direct viewing is safe.

Just remember that before and after totality, it is not safe to look directly at the sun.  And if you’re not in the direct path of the eclipse?  You’ll only see a partial eclipse, and you will need to protect your eyes the entire time.

Protect Your Eyes

The solar eclipse may be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people.  But if you’re living the visual lifestyle, you need clear vision and healthy eyes for a lifetime.  Don’t risk it all by looking at the sun during the eclipse.  Protect your eyes properly, and enjoy the eclipse safely.

Question: Have you made plans for the total solar eclipse?  Please tell me about them in the comments below.


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