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Eclipse Blindness: The Surprising Reasons You Shouldn't Watch The Solar Eclipse

By Essilor News

By now, you probably know that all of North America will experience a solar eclipse on August 21.  Whether you're located in the zone of totality or will see only a partial eclipse, it’s time to consider whether you’ll look up or look away during this major celestial event.

Here’s the key – you have to be prepared to truly enjoy the eclipse safely and avoid permanent eye damage. But if you’re “too cool,” “too busy,” or simply not interested in experiencing this momentous occasion, here are some reasons to justify staying indoors on August 21.

#1: You don’t have the right eye protection.

The only perfect pair of glasses for viewing the eclipse is one that includes ISO-certified film to reduce your exposure to harmful light from the sun. While you might think your daily wear glasses or sunglasses would help, those lenses won’t fly - they do not properly protect your eyes during an eclipse. Even the darkest sunglasses do not sufficiently reduce the amount of light hitting the back of your eyes.

#2: You must wear your eclipse glasses at all times when looking at the sun, unless you’re in the zone of totality.

Only parts of 14 states will be in the path of the eclipse where the moon will completely cover the sun for two to three minutes. Once the eclipse has reached totality, this is the only time it’s safe to remove eye protection. As soon as the sun starts to reappear, it’s time to put your eclipse viewing glasses back on. If you’re not in the path, keep those glasses on! If you’re truly opposed to them, just think of what a great story this will be for your grandkids… you don’t want to miss it.

#3: You don’t have an eclipse viewer.

If you can’t get your hands on a pair of eclipse glasses, a pinhole camera like the one you made as a kid is a safe way to view the eclipse. If you’re the artistic type, it could be fun to craft your own viewer. Maybe.

#4: You can’t identify the signs of eclipse blindness.

Research confirms that staring at the sun -- even one that is completely blocked by the moon -- can cause eclipse blindness. The American Optometric Association defines eclipse blindness as "a serious injury in which the eye’s retina is damaged by solar radiation within seconds of staring at the sun."

It’s your call as to whether you want to experience what the Washington Post is calling “a once-in-a-lifetime event.” We can’t make the decision for you. But if you’re contemplating joining the millions of Americans who will look up on August 21, eyecare professionals recommend you protect your eyes.

Here’s why protection is important:

  • Gazing into the blindingly bright eye of the sun is unsafe every day, not just during an eclipse. While your Xperio UV™ sunnies provide the best vision under the sun every other day, the eclipse glasses are many thousands of times darker than ordinary sunglasses.
  • Extended exposure to the sun's UV rays has been linked to eye damage such as cataracts and sunburn of the cornea (called “photokeratitis”) that can cause temporary vision loss.
  • The sun is also the number one source of Harmful Blue Light[1], and emerging research points to a possible link between long-term, continuous exposure to blue-violet light and long term visions issues, such as age-related macular degeneration[2], the leading cause of blindness for adults over 50.

It could be another century before the U.S. experiences another event like this. If you’re planning to look up, be ready with proper eye protection for this special day.

[1] Harmful Blue Light falls between 415-455nm on the light spectrum and is suspected to be most toxic to retinal cells. See Arnault E, Barrau C, et al. (2013). Phototoxic Action Spectrum on a Retinal Pigment Epithelium Model of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Exposed to Sunlight Normalized Conditions. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71398. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071398.