Protecting Your Vision During a Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse - October 14

Get ready for this weekend’s eclipse Saturday, Oct 14th at 9:13 AM!

Observing a solar eclipse can be an unforgettable event, yet gazing directly at the sun poses a significant risk of harming your eyes. Even a brief moment of unprotected sun-watching can permanently damage your retina, potentially leading to a condition known as solar retinopathy, which may result in permanent damage to your eyes. However, there are safe ways to view this unique phenomenon:

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, causing the sun to be temporarily obscured or blocked from view from certain parts of the Earth. This happens because the moon’s shadow, which is made of two parts known as the penumbra (partial shadow) and the umbra (total shadow), falls on the Earth’s surface. There are two main types of solar eclipses:

Partial Solar Eclipse: In a partial solar eclipse, only a portion of the sun is covered by the moon as seen from a particular location on Earth. It occurs when the moon does not align perfectly with the center of the sun but instead partially covers it.
Total Solar Eclipse: A total solar eclipse is a rarer and more dramatic event. During a total solar eclipse, the moon completely covers the entire disk of the sun, leaving only the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the solar corona, visible. This creates a moment of darkness during the day, turning day into night for a brief period.

Total solar eclipses are highly anticipated events, because they provide the unique opportunity to see the sun’s outer atmosphere and the corona. Only certain parts of the Earth can experience a total solar eclipse, and this area is called “the path of totality”. Outside of the path, some people may still be able to view a partial eclipse. Because solar eclipses are relatively rare (occurring an average of 2-5 times per year), they are fascinating and have captured human wonder for centuries.

Why can a solar eclipse damage my eyes?

A solar eclipse can damage your eyes because even when the moon partially covers the sun during an eclipse, it is still incredibly bright and emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation. Staring at the sun for even a short period can overwhelm the light-sensitive cells in your retinas, potentially causing temporary or permanent damage. This exposure to UV and IR radiation can harm the delicate tissues of your cornea and retina, potentially leading to conditions like solar retinopathy.

Solar retinopathy is a condition that occurs when the eye is exposed to intense sunlight, particularly during a solar eclipse, without proper protection. It results from damage to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, caused by the sun’s harmful rays. Symptoms of solar retinopathy may include blurred or distorted vision, dark or missing spots in the field of vision, and visual disturbances. Unfortunately, this damage can be permanent, potentially leading to long-term vision problems or even blindness.

How do I safely view the solar eclipse?

Use specialized eclipse glasses: Obtain eclipse glasses that are certified to meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. These glasses have special filters that block out harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation while allowing you to view the eclipse safely. Ensure they are not scratched or damaged before use. Medical Eye Center is a proud provider of ISO-rated viewing glasses, available at no charge to patients with upcoming appointments. Please reach out to us if you’d like to come pick up a pair. Remember, regular sunglasses are not protective eyewear for a solar eclipse.

Watch online or visit an observatory: If you don’t have access to proper eye protection or are concerned about safety, consider watching the eclipse through reputable livestreams online or by visiting an observatory or planetarium hosting safe viewing events. These venues typically provide the necessary equipment for safe eclipse-watching.

Supervise children to ensure their eye safety: Supervising children during a solar eclipse is crucial to ensure their safety, as they may not fully grasp the potential dangers of looking directly at the sun. Before the eclipse, remember to explain the risks using age-appropriate language and provide children with certified eclipse glasses or solar viewers, ensuring they wear them correctly. Additionally, actively engage with children, answer their questions, and lead by example by using proper eye protection.

The next solar eclipse is happening on October 14th, and you can prepare by ensuring you and your family members have a pair of protective glasses. Here at Medical Eye Center, we are happy to provide these at no cost (simply request a pair at your next appointment). Happy viewing!


How often do solar eclipses occur?