Learn how to look: The eclipse can damage your eyes

WASHINGTON — Looking at the sun during the upcoming solar eclipse can damage eyes, doctors warn.

“Staring at direct sunlight can burn and potentially scar your retina,” said Dr. Shilpa D. Rose of Whitten Laser Eye. “Solar retinopathy is a photochemical reaction that causes damage to the retinal tissue.”

Younger people are more at risk.

“They have bigger pupils and a clear lens,” Rose said. “So they’re more predisposed to get damage to the retina.”

Damage can be permanent or reversible, depending on the situation and each person’s eyes. Rose said you might experience:

  • Fuzzy vision
  • Graying vision
  • Change in vision
  • A blind spot in the center of your eye
  • Damage can occur in one or both eyes

Rose said the damage is painless.

“You don’t realize that it’s happened,” Rose said. “There’s no pain, there’s no redness, there’s no discharge. All of a sudden, you just notice that your vision is cloudy.”

It only takes a few seconds to do permanent damage, according to Medstar Washington Hospital Center, and once cells are dead, the damage can’t be undone.

The American Astronomical Society has a list of vendors with safe solar filters in the form of eye glasses and to attach to cameras and binoculars, but its website notes that many are sold out.

But if you can’t get eclipse glasses, there is still something you can do.

“Viewing an indirect image can also be very exciting and is very safe,” Rose said.

Shadows landing on some surfaces during the eclipse will show the crescent shape created by the portion of the sun that’s covered by the moon. The “pinhole projection” effect can be created by sun filtering through leaves on a tree or sunlight passing through a small hole punched into an index card.

You can create the effect yourself by turning your back to the sun, holding out your hands and spreading your fingers slightly while crossing one hand over the other.

“Make a crisscross pattern with your fingers,” Rose advised.

And voilà — the sunlight passing through your hands will dapple the surface below them with crescent shapes.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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