How to safely watch the solar eclipse? Ophthalmologist weighs in on eye damage and misconceptions - Hindustan Times
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How to safely watch the solar eclipse? Ophthalmologist weighs in on eye damage and misconceptions

Apr 08, 2024 04:32 AM IST

Senior Henry Ford Ophthalmologist debunks the misconception around regular sunglasses in the face of a solar eclipse.

As the US counts down the final hours to the highly anticipated total solar eclipse on April 8, the astronomical spectacle will be witnessed across 15 states over North America.

HOULTON, MAINE - APRIL 07: Eclipse glasses are worn by a statue of George Washington on April 07, 2024, in Houlton, Maine. Millions of people have flocked to areas across North America that are in the "path of totality" in order to experience a total solar eclipse. During the event, the moon will pass in between the sun and the Earth, appearing to block the sun. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Photo by JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)(Getty Images via AFP)
HOULTON, MAINE - APRIL 07: Eclipse glasses are worn by a statue of George Washington on April 07, 2024, in Houlton, Maine. Millions of people have flocked to areas across North America that are in the "path of totality" in order to experience a total solar eclipse. During the event, the moon will pass in between the sun and the Earth, appearing to block the sun. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Photo by JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)(Getty Images via AFP)

The once-in-a-blue-moon marvel is as mindboggling as it is detrimental to the eyes. Filled with intrigue, millions of spectators may feel the rush to watch the event with their naked eye. However, a senior Henry Ford ophthalmologist has some words of caution for you, some of which even touch upon potential permanent eye damage.

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Here are some highlights of Dr Nitin Kumar's unmissable conversation with The Detroit News:

How to watch the solar eclipse without fearing permanent vision damage?

Eye safety gear for the eclipse viewing experience

First things first – Most people experiencing this miraculous phenomenon may wonder if they can directly view the eclipse without any safety gear. Dr Kumar's negative nod advises you not to do so unless you're in totality.

Even then, accurately timing the totality could be a hefty task. If not done correctly, it will result in unrepairable damage to your retina. The ophthalmologist guides people to wear proper filter protection covering the eyes. He even suggests that people in places experiencing totality should sport proper eye protection.

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People often lead with misplaced trust in regular sunglasses as an effective protective gear for such an event. However, the expert disregards even the most expensive sunglasses in this case. Instead, he mentions the International Organisation of Standards' specific limit - ISO 12312-2- as the ideal standard for preparing any requisite filter to look at the sun. Even UV-protected sunglasses don't fit the bill in this case.

Similarly, while looking at the sun through a camera or a telescope, you must shield their lenses. Once you fit the suitable shield onto the end, the major amount of the sun's light will be filtered out, making it safe for viewing.

Then comes the bigger question: What will happen if people look directly at the sun during the partial eclipse?

The eye lens and cornea work together to focus light on the retina, which ultimately helps us see things clearly. If you choose to look at the sun during the eclipse without any protective gear, these two will focus damaging rays directly on the retina. As that happens, the retina's special cells, called photoreceptors, that turn light into electrical signals, would be fried. The resulting damage is generally a permanent hazard.

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Symptoms of permanent eye damage include solar retinopathy or eclipse retinopathy. An after-effect of sungazing or eclipse viewing, this is explained as a photochemical injury to the central retina.

The mild to moderate loss of central vision can be irreversible, for which no proven treatment has been found. As you incur this damage, its common symptoms are developing a blind spot in the affected eye or both eyes. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus also lists abnormal colour vision, twisting of the central vision, seeing objects smaller than they are and headaches as other solar retinopathy symptoms.

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