Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Advice from an eye doctor on viewing the eclipse safely

Solar eclipse glasses allow the user to stare at the sun without the potential for harm to the viewers eyes. (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Solar eclipse glasses allow the user to stare at the sun without the potential for harm to the viewers eyes. Here, Port City Daily and Penguin 98.3 staffers are made to test out the office specs for this story. (Port City Daily photo / MICHAEL PRAATS)

WILMINGTON — The solar eclipse of 2017 is only 10 days away and Wilmington is set to see nearly full totality, with 97 percent of the sun blocked by the moon. While a full eclipse is a spectacular event that often only happens once or twice in a person’s lifetime, viewing the eclipse in a safe manner is important – that’s why Dr. Eric Schmidt, with Omni Eye Specialists, has offered his advice for safely viewing the phenomenon.

Schmidt says when it comes to eye safety and the sun, there is a lot of bad information found online, and through anecdotal advice. The safest way to view an eclipse is with official eclipse viewing glasses.

“There is so much misinformation about what’s safe and what’s not safe – I remember when I was a kid, the last time this happened and my dad had us looking through this pin hole from a paper towel roll, that’s not the right thing to do either, so there is just a lot of dos and don’ts and when I am reading these things there’s just a lot of things that aren’t true,” Schmidt said.

While viewing the eclipse during totality, the period of time when the moon is blocking the sun, it is safe to remove the eclipse glasses, but the time it is safe to view this eclipse only about two minutes, he said.

“Once you get a hole in your retina, it just doesn’t work.”

While it might sound counter-intuitive, staring at the sun during an eclipse is actually more harmful than staring at the sun on a regular day; this is because the light from an eclipse is more focused and more intense.

“The sunlight gets really concentrated off the sun, so that concentration of the energy – it’s like taking a big light and focusing it like a laser, and that concentration of light can cause retinal holes … that potential damage to the retina is pretty much irreversible. Once you get a hole in your retina, it just doesn’t work,” Schmidt said.

Getting a pair of eclipse glasses is easy enough, several area stores are carrying them, as is Omni Eye Specialists (although they sold out of their first order, Schmidt says they will have some more soon).

For those who are planning on viewing the eclipse with regular sunglasses, polarized or not, think again.

“People say, ‘Can’t I just wear my polarized sunglasses,’ but we’re not worried about the polarization at all, were worried about the concentration of the light. The eclipse glasses are really simple, it’s just layers upon layers, and the color of the lenses is unique to that wavelength that will be coming off the sun,” Schmidt said.

Another thing to avoid is using a telescope, binoculars, or camera to view the eclipse – Schmidt likened this to using a magnifying glass to burn ants, except the retina would be the object of the burn. There are filters people can use to put on a camera lenses and take photos of the eclipse that way.

While it can sound like the potential damage is great when viewing the eclipse, the main message Schmidt wants to get across is not to scare anyone from viewing it, in fact he encourages people to take the time to catch this special celestial event, he just wants people to do so safely.

Eclipse glasses are relatively inexpensive anywhere from $3 to around $10, but be sure the glasses are specifically made to handle the concentration of light.

Michael Praats can be contacted at Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com.

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