MADISON, Wis. - While millions of Americans will watch the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, ophthalmologists are cautioning people about the permanent damage that can be done to vision from looking at the sun without protective glasses.
“I think the biggest thing to know is that you can potentially hurt your eyes if you watch the solar eclipse without protective eyewear,” said Dr. Kimberly Stepien, a retina specialist with UW Health.
If you look at the sun without protective eyewear the solar radiation and thermal energy from the sun can burn the retinal tissue.
“If you were to look at the sun, what we usually see is damage to the macular of the retina, which is the center vision part of the eye. Usually what patients will experience would be a focal blank spot in their vision,” said Dr. Stepien.
“For instance, if you were looking at the word ‘CAT’, they may be able to see the ‘C’ and the ‘T’, but miss the ‘A’. And this is a permanent loss.”
Solar eclipse glasses are available online and at retail stores, but it is very important to make sure they are certified to protect your vision. Printed on the solar eclipse glasses should be, NASA-recommended eyewear that is ISO 12312-2 certified.
Dr. Stepien also recommends checking to make sure there are no scratches, holes or damage to the solar filters on protective eyewear.
It is also important that children be supervised the entire time to make sure they do not remove their glasses while watching the eclipse.
Regular sunglasses do not protect your eyes from the damaging rays of an eclipse, and looking through the lens of a camera, binoculars or a telescope puts your vision at risk.
While the eclipse will only reach 85 percent of southern Wisconsin, the risk of vision loss still exists if protective eyewear is not used.
“Even though we’re not going to have the total eclipse, you still can get eye damage from looking at a partial eclipse, so it is very important to protect your eyes,” said Dr. Stepien.