image: "Diamond Ring", Rick Fienberg, 2009
On August 21, 2017, millions of people will travel to view the upcoming total solar eclipse. With the zone of totality covering a large swath of the United States, many Americans are planning on watching the phenomenon. Here is why you shouldn't.
1. Solar damage is irreversible.
Fact: Millions of people each year experience blurred vision, visual distortion, and loss of vision due to the damaging effects of UV rays on the eyes -- damage known as solar retinopathy. According to the American Society of Retina Specialists, "Solar retinopathy is a condition that occurs when image-sensing photoreceptors are destroyed following initial damage to the retina and adjacent tissue." With so many people traveling to see the Great American Eclipse this month, solar injury rates will soar. As of now, no one has found a way to reverse this damage. Every second spent looking at the sun, during an eclipse or otherwise, causes severe burning to the retina. In some cases, sun exposure causes holes in the macula, an essential portion of the central retina that is responsible for sharp focus. These holes severely impair vision and can cause partial or total blindness.
2. Children are much more susceptible to UV damage.
More UV rays are transmitted through the internal lenses of young eyes. Children are outside up to three times the amount that adults are, on average, and their pupils are larger. Children age 8 and younger are exposed to up to 75 percent of UVA rays, whereas adults are exposed to less than 5 percent. For these reasons, it is important to protect children from solar gazing, especially around the time of this eclipse because it is such a draw.
3. There are so many myths about "safe" ways to solar gaze.
Many people look through welding masks, photographic film, pinholes in papers, or even regular sunglasses. These methods are unsafe and cause nearly as much damage as looking at the sun with no protection at all. There have been recent advancements in technology that allow certain companies approved by the American Optometric Association to create special "eclipse glasses"; however, many that are on the market are unsafe knockoffs. Even these glasses are not approved to be used for more than three minutes at a time, and they are not completely proven to be 100 percent safe. If you are willing to take the risk of damage, we urge you to do the research and find the proper AOA-approved glasses. If you want to stay 100 percent safe and damage-free, our ultimate recommendation is to watch the eclipse on TV. This is completely safe for your eyes and will ensure that your eyes are as safe and healthy as they can possibly be.
A few minutes of solar gazing is not worth a lifetime of vision damage. Be safe!