As solar eclipse draws near, tips for protecting your eyes

Check for the ISO certified seal of approval when looking for solar eclipse-viewing glasses. (Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr)

As residents prepare for the upcoming Monday, Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, eye-health experts want to make sure everyone knows how to protect their eyes

Sunglasses won’t be enough, since they only block the sun’s light by a factor of about 10. Solar eclipse viewing glasses are much darker, reducing the brightness of the sun by a factor of 10,000.

Edmonds-based optometrist Bryan Karrick said that despite recent media coverage on the issue, “there are still individuals that do not know, or take seriously enough, the fact that regular sunglasses offer almost no protection.”

Eclipse-related eye damage can serious, Karrick added. “I still see people that viewed an eclipse decades ago that complain of a vision loss that is usually small but right in the middle of their vision. The impact to them is livable but a daily problem.”

Most of Washington will experience a 90 percent blockage of the sun on Aug. 21. The eclipse will begin around 9 a.m. and end before noon.

Damage from looking at the sun can cause an afterimage that feels like the flash from a camera but lasts much longer, possibly leading to fuzzy vision or even a small blind spot.

Karrick shared the following tips, provided by the American Optometric Association:

– Use approved solar eclipse viewers. The only safe way to view a partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or viewers that meet international standard ISO 12312-2 for safe viewing. Sunglasses, smoked glass, unfiltered telescopes or magnifiers, and polarizing filters are unsafe. If you can’t find eclipse viewers, build a pinhole projector to watch the eclipse.

– Before looking at the sun, cover your eyes with the eclipse viewers while standing still. Glance at the sun, turn away and then remove your filter. Do not remove the filter while looking at the sun.

– Only within the path of totality — and once the moon completely blocks the sun — can eclipse viewers safely be removed to view totality. Once the sun begins reappearing, however, viewers must be replaced.

– If you should experience discomfort or vision problems following the eclipse, visit your local eye care professional for a comprehensive eye examination.

The last total solar eclipse visible across the United States was in 1918. On NASA’s website, you can learn how to build your own viewfinder and find other safety tips for the eclipse.

By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA), with reporting by Teresa Wippel

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