Bad Things Happen When You Stare at the Sun

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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