Total Solar Eclipse Safety: How to Watch Without Hurting Your Eyes

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a young woman He visited the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary at Mount Sinai Hospital shortly after the eclipse on August 21, 2017. He told Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, an ophthalmologist, that he had a black area in his vision and then drew a half-shaped shape on it. moon. on a piece of paper.

When Dr. Deobhakta examined his eyes, he was amazed. He saw a burn on his retina that had exactly the same shape. It was “almost like a brand,” he said.

He had looked at the sun during the eclipse without any protection. The burn was an image of the sun’s corona, its outer edge shaped like a halo.

With every eclipse, ophthalmologists see patients who look at the sun and then complain that their vision is distorted: They see small black dots, their eyes are watery, and they are sensitive to light. Symptoms usually disappear, although it may take several weeks to a year.

But the burns on the woman’s retina, which Dr. Deobhakta and his colleagues described in a medical case report, did not heal. Her retina was permanently scarred and is a sign of the severity of injuries that can occur when viewing an eclipse without proper precautions.

With the eclipse looming in April, ophthalmologists advise people to be careful and not assume that brief glances at the sun are safe. Damage can occur, they say, in less than a minute.

David Calkins, director of the Vanderbilt Vision Research Center and vice president of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute in Nashville, said younger people were higher risk of retinal damage, possibly because the lens of their eye is clearer than that of older people. He said they could also be a little more reckless.

But age is no guarantee of being able to view the eclipse safely.

A study described 20 people aged 15 to 82 in England who complained of symptoms such as black spots in vision or blurred vision after an eclipse in 1999. Four said they used eclipse glasses; one said he wore sunglasses. The rest looked at the naked eye.

Five had visible retinal damage. All but four of the 20 improved after seven months.

Not everyone is so lucky. A study published Last year four young Irish women participated looked at the sun during a religious meeting in October 2009. The women, who did not know each other, sought medical attention within a few days of looking at the sun. They complained of blind spots in the center of their vision and said objects appeared distorted and blurry.

Researchers at Galway University Hospital followed the women for an average of more than five years. One was followed for 11 years.

Years later, the researchers reported, all of the women still had blind spots.

For Dr. Deobhakta, the situation with women in 2017 is a warning.

While he wore protective glasses during part of his eclipse viewing, he initially looked at it several times for about six seconds each time without protection.

He felt good for four hours. Then her symptoms emerged: blurred vision, distorted shapes and colors, and that black crescent-shaped spot in the center of her vision with her left eye.

Most people view an eclipse through special eclipse glasses. Glasses often have a cardboard body with a special film on the peepholes that filters out harmful rays.

Dr Deobhakta said he did not trust many of the eclipse lenses being sold and felt they were not worth the risk. He prefers a indirect method that involves using holes, like in a colander, to cast the sun’s shadow on the ground.

Professional groups say many eclipse glasses are safe, but recommend caution when purchasing them. The American Astronomical Society reported that potentially unsafe eclipse glasses flooded the market before the 2017 eclipse.

To help people find eclipse glasses, the astronomical society lists trusted sellers and distributors.

Legitimate eclipse glasses must meet specific international safety standards known as ISO 12312-2. The tests require a spectrophotometer that measures how much ultraviolet, visible and infrared light passes through the glasses.

But an ISO logo on glasses is not necessarily a guarantee, the astronomical society warns, because dealers can (and some do) take an ISO logo from the Internet and put it on their glasses.

Rick Fienberg, project director of the astronomical society’s Solar Eclipse Working Group, said counterfeit companies were also putting the names of legitimate distributors on their products. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unsafe, he added. But it does mean that the seller, or the company that sold you the products, is committing fraud.

Dr. Fienberg suggests purchasing directly from a seller listed by the astronomical society.

But, he said, if you’re concerned about your glasses, there’s a way to see if they’re effective. Look around a room with eclipse glasses on. The glasses should be so dark that you can’t see anything. Then, go outside and look at the sun with your glasses on. You’re probably safe, she said, if you can see the sun through the lenses and “the image is sharp and comfortably bright.”

Dr. Deobhakta is still worried. He says that he knows he is too cautious, but he can’t help but warn people about the coming eclipse.

“Don’t look at it whether you have glasses or not,” he said. “I’m not going to let my family see it. I am a doctor. That’s why I say what I say. “I saw what happened.”

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