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Eye safety tips you need to know ahead of the solar eclipse

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5 min read

Ahead of the much anticipated solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, experts from across the eyecare space are offering their best clinical advice for how to safely take in this year’s biggest solar event.

To kick things off, Glance President Jaclyn Garlich, OD, FAAO, spoke with Bausch + Lomb’s Jill Saxon, OD, FAAO, executive director of professional strategy, on the importance of educating patients and her best practices for ensuring eye health.

So, what the heck is a solar eclipse?

It’s what happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, resulting in a complete blockage of the sun’s face.

The effect on Earth: if you’re in the “path of totality” (where the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun), the sky will become dark like dusk or dawn, and the sun’s outer atmosphere will be viewable (weather permitting, of course).

NASA goes into way (way) more detail here.

Now let’s talk ocular effects.

Eye damage can occur from looking at the sun during a solar eclipse if you’re not wearing proper eye protection (even sunglasses aren’t enough)—and such damage (dubbed “eclipse blindness”) could be permanent.

Case in point: Following the 2017 solar eclipse, a 2018 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology detailed a patient case involving a young woman who looked directly at the sun without wearing appropriate eye protection.

The result: Within 4 hours, she developed blurry distortion in both eyes and could only see black; three days later, she presented with crescent-shaped retinal damage.

The diagnosis: Solar retinopathy and photochemical burns (including permanent eye damage for which there is no known treatment or cure).

Yikes. So what are some tips?

Input from both the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Optometric Association (AOA) include one major piece of advice: Use approved solar eclipse viewers or eclipse glasses.

According to the organizations, these glasses are deemed to be “the only safe way to view a partially eclipsed sun” due to their special-purpose solar filters that meet international standards for safe viewing.

I’m listening …

Other safety precautions to take include adopting the proper viewing technique:

  • Don’t remove your solar eclipse eyewear while looking at the sun
  • If you typically wear glasses, place the eclipse glasses over them or hold your handheld viewer in front of them

Note: Sunglasses are not substitutes for eclipse glasses. They are very (very) different and offer no protection in this instance.

What else to know?

The AAO also advises against looking at the uneclipsed—or even partially eclipsed—sun through the following viewfinders, even if you’re wearing proper eclipse eyewear or holding a solar viewer at the same time:

  • Unfiltered camera
  • Telescope
  • Binoculars or similar devices

The reason? “Intense solar rays coming through these devices will damage the protective filter in your solar glasses and put your eyes at risk.”

Is there any instance where solar eclipse eyewear isn’t needed to view the eclipse?

Just one! And that’s only if you’re standing in the path of totality (which we covered earlier). In this case, viewers can safely remove their proper eyewear to look at the totality.

However (and this is very important): Once the sun begins to reappear, you must place your solar eclipse viewers back on your eyes.

Now, what if I end up looking at the eclipse (when I’m not supposed to)?

First things first: even if you view the sun and don’t have any immediate visual changes, that doesn’t mean damage hasn’t taken place; in fact, it may take hours or even days for you to take notice.

The AOA recommends immediately seeing your eyecare practitioner (ECP) if you’re experiencing discomfort or vision problems, including:

  • Loss of central vision
  • Distorted vision
  • Altered color vision

“All symptoms should be treated as urgent until viewed by a doctor of optometry,” stated the AOA.

Alright, I hear you … but what If I happen to miss this year’s eclipse?

You'll just have to wait 20 years. The next total solar eclipse won’t be until Aug. 23, 2044.