Later this month, eyes will turn to the sky to witness a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse. While this natural phenomenon may be a sight to behold – protecting your sight while doing so is key.

“If you glance at the partially eclipsed sun for split second, you will not burn your retinas permanently – just like if you glance at the sun for a split second on a regular day,” says Jason Comander, MD, PhD, associate director of Inherited Retinal Disorders Service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. “But then there is the temptation to do it again and again, or for longer, and the damage builds up. Surprisingly it does not hurt if you start staring long enough to damage your retina.”

It is possible, however, to view the eclipsed sun safely, Comander says. “There are also are several ways to look at the eclipsed sun without spending any money. Everyone should be able to enjoy it.”

Helpful tips:

Do not look at the sun through binoculars, cameras, telescopes or any type of magnifying device. “These can really damage your eyes quite quickly,” Comander says.

Wear eclipse glasses that have black or silver shields over the eyes. Glasses should have a certified ISO 12312-2 code marking on them, and should come from a reputable vendor. Many of these sellers are listed on the American Astronomical Society website (aas.org). “If the glasses are damaged in any way – scratched, torn or cracked – you shouldn’t use them,” Comander says.

Create a pinhole project by poking a hole through a piece of paper. Stand with your back to the sun and hold the paper over the ground or against a wall. As the sun shines through the hole, the crescent of the sun will be seen in the shadow.  Another option for viewing the eclipse without any special equipment is to stand with your back to the sun and create a lattice by crossing the outstretched, slightly open fingers of one hand over the outstretched, slightly open fingers of the other.

“Based on what’s published in the latest journals, the population at highest risk for damage to their eyes are teenage boys,” Comander says. “It comes down to this: Sometimes people do not pay attention to the warnings they have heard. I think people should just remember it’s dangerous to stare into the sun – because sometimes vision comes back, and sometimes it doesn’t.”



Read more articles from the 08/04/17 Hotline issue.