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Geoffrey Hill, MD, an ophthalmologist who practices at SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital - Lake Saint Louis, helps us understand the importance of safety while viewing the solar eclipse.
Why is this an event of a lifetime?
On Aug. 21, 2017, Midwesterners will get to experience the first total solar eclipse to be viewable from our part of the United States since 1918. Extremely rare, a total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks our view of the sun by passing directly between our line of sight from a particular place on earth.
At SSM Health, we want our patients, families, employees, and community members to be safe while viewing the total solar eclipse. During a normal day, it is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous to look directly at the sun. The sun is about 400,000 times brighter than the full moon, so looking directly toward its rays can lead to severe eye damage or even permanent blindness. Sunglasses do not block enough of the sun’s energy to protect our eyes from damage.
“A solar eclipse can be extremely dangerous because it is tempting to look directly at the sun when the eclipse is happening,” Dr. Hill said. “Even when the sun is partially blocked by the moon, solar damage may occur within a few seconds of gazing toward the eclipse. It is extremely important NOT to look directly at the sun with the naked eye during a solar eclipse. Furthermore, sunglasses do not provide adequate protection and may actually allow solar damage to occur faster by causing pupil dilation.”
Why it’s harmful to your eyes.
Looking directly at the sun allows the sun’s visible light rays and non-visible ultraviolet rays to enter the eye. These rays of solar energy are focused by the cornea and lens of the eye directly onto the retina. This is similar to holding a magnifying glass in the sunlight and focusing the beam onto a piece of paper. It only takes a few seconds for the focused light to burn the paper. In the same way, only a few seconds of gazing at the sun or a solar eclipse can cause the focused energy to burn the retina. This damage may be reversible, with normal vision returning after several weeks, but the longer the direct exposure to the sun’s rays, the more likely one is to sustain permanent damage, according to Dr. Hill.
“Sustained sun gazing (or eclipse gazing) can cause keratitis (inflammation from a corneal burn), cataracts (cloudy spots in the lens of the eye), boiling of the vitreous humor that fills the eye, and retinal burns that leave behind permanent retinal holes,” Dr. Hill said.
So how do you view the total solar eclipse safely?
Dr. Hill suggests four ways to safely view the solar eclipse.
For more information, visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/.
We hope you enjoy viewing the total solar eclipse and remember to stay safe while enjoying this captivating life event!
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