Eye Safety Tips for the Solar Eclipse

By March 30, 2024Health Tips

As most of you may know, the next total solar eclipse will cross North America on April 8, 2024. A large number of people in the US will be in the path of the total eclipse or will be traveling to see it. Even if you are not in the path of the total eclipse, you can see a partial eclipse from anywhere in the US on that day. It is extremely important to protect your eyes when viewing an eclipse. Staring at the sun, even for a short time, can permanently damage your eye, even causing blindness. Let’s talk more about it.

What is an eclipse?
Eye safety tips for the solar eclipseA solar eclipse is when the moon blocks any part of the sun from our view. With a total eclipse, there will be a few hours of partial eclipse, followed by a couple of minutes of total eclipse, followed again by gradual uncovering, which is another phase of partial eclipse. During the brief period of the total eclipse, the sun’s outer atmosphere appears like a halo around the moon in front of it.
Watching a solar eclipse is quite memorable, but looking directly at the sun, even when it is almost totally covered by the moon, can seriously damage your eyes. Do not look at the eclipse without proper eye protection.
What is Solar Retinopathy?
Damage to your retina from looking directly at the sun, or other bright lights, like laser pointers or active welding, is called solar retinopathy. The retina is a thin layer of tissue in the back of your eye that senses light. It communicates through the optic nerve to provide information to your brain, which forms the images that you see.
This bright light can cause permanent damage to the retina. Sometimes the damage is severe enough to cause permanent blindness.
What are the symptoms of solar retinopathy?
As the sun’s UV rays are causing damage to the retina, it is not painful. In fact, you may feel nothing at all while it is happening. After the exposure, over the next few hours to days, you may start to notice the following symptoms:
  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • A blind spot in your line of sight
  • Vision distortion, such as straight lines appearing rounded or objects appearing smaller than they really are
  • Severe cases lead to permanent blindness
How can you protect your eyes while viewing a solar eclipse?
There is only one safe way to look directly at the sun (during an eclipse or not), which is by using special filters, specifically for the purpose, called solar filters. These solar filters are used in eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewers. They must meet very strict standards to protect the eyes.
Ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, or homemade filters are not safe for looking at the sun!!
Here are some tips to safely watch a solar eclipse:
  • Inspect your solar filter/eclipse glasses before using them. If there are any scratches or damaged areas, DO NOT USE THEM.
  • Follow all directions that come with the solar filters/eclipse glasses. Be sure to help children to use the viewers correctly.
  • Cover your eyes completely with your solar filter/eclipse glasses before looking up toward the sun. After you glance at the sun, turn away from the sun completely before you remove your filter.
  • You can remove the filter very briefly when the moon completely covers the sun, and it suddenly gets dark. As soon as there is the slightest appearance of the sun reappearing, you must immediately use your solar viewer again!
  • Never look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, or binoculars, or any other device, even if you have eclipse glasses on! The intensity of the solar rays coming through these devices can damage the solar filter and damage your eyes.
  • If you want to use a special solar filter with a camera or telescope, you should talk with an expert astronomer beforehand to make sure you have the correct equipment in order to do this safely.
  • If you don’t have any type of solar viewer, instead of looking up at the sun, view the shape of the eclipse on the ground by looking at the shadows on a flat surface made by a colander. Or watch news coverage with live images.
During the last solar eclipse, which was almost total where I was living at the time, I used my colander to see the shadows on the ground and watched news coverage with spectacular images. Even though I was not looking directly at the eclipse, I still found the experience very exciting and moving. I also watched my hens go into their coop to roost as the light waned in the middle of the day! They came back out an hour or two later when the sun got bright enough to mimic the dawn!
I hope you are able to enjoy the upcoming eclipse safely!
If you have any questions about viewing the eclipse, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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