How to keep your eyes safe during the eclipse

On the Medical Watch how to take in the solar eclipse without hurting your eyes. You won’t feel the damage, but eventually you’ll see it. Eye doctors say it’s a life-changing condition you can avoid if you follow the rules.

On a typical day, it’s nearly impossible to stare at the bright sun. We can’t tolerate the intensity so we squint and quickly look away.

“And that’s just an average day. what we’re talking about on the 21st is a thousand times more intensified type of light damage to the eye,” says Dr Kimberlee Curnyn, an Amita Health Ophthalmologist.

That’s because during an eclipse the partially blocked sun plays a trick on our eyes. Think of it like getting a sunburn on a cloudy day. As it darkens outside, our pupils naturally enlarge, allowing more UV rays in.

“If you have the moon slowly blocking the sun, our eyes become accommodated to it, our pupils actually dilate, and we don’t realize the amount of sun damage happening internally in our eye,” says Dr Curnyn.

It’s called solar retinopathy or solar burn. Dr Curnyn says you won’t feel it happening, but without protective eyewear, the full force of light penetrates through the eye’s lens landing on the retina, where in a matter of seconds to minutes – it can scorch the delicate structure.

“The light rays tend to focus directly on the center of our vision and that’s the most crucial part of our retina,” she says. “In this case you can see that the pigmentation has been disrupted or basically burnt away b/c of the sun damage.”

A retina that’s been burned has visible holes.

“We’ll see all this disruption underneath the normal retina and this is where the damage takes place and it’s irreversible,” Dr Curnyn says. “The underlaying tissue has been basically burnt, damaged and lost its function. 10:00:31 It would be a total loss of center vision. A black dot. So whenever an individual is trying to look at a letter or word when they are reading, that’s the damaged portion of the retina that’s trying to look at that. It is life changing.”

That’s why protecting our eyes is so important. Regular sunglasses won’t work. The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special solar filters -- or eclipse glasses. But buyer beware. Make sure your protective glasses are compliant with safety standards. They should have the marking ISO 123122.

“It’s the highest level of UV protection and blockage,” Dr Curnyn says. “So when you look through your traditional sunglasses you can still see people in the room, objects in the room and different types of light.”

Look down before putting the special glasses on, then it’s safe to look up. Do the same before taking them off.

“When you look thru the appropriate solar protective glasses you’re only going to see a single strongest light source that is possible, which in this case is the sun. It blocks everything else,” says Dr Curnyn.

It’s safe to remove lenses only during the period of totality when the moon is completely blocking the sun. That period will last about 2 minutes, 40 seconds, but won’t occur here in the Chicago area.