Eclipse eyewear: Here's what can happen if you're not careful

Photo: Grand Canyon National Park / CC BY 2.0 via MGN

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – It's no secret that staring directly into the sun during the solar eclipse isn't recommended and could have detrimental consequences on your eyes.

That said - making sure you're prepped with the proper eyewear could save you from a world of pain, and possible long-term medical consequences.

When the long anticipated solar eclipse occurs on Aug. 21, 2017, millions of Americans will witness the moon block the earth’s view of the sun. For those who are directly in the path of the eclipse, it will seem as if the moon and the sun are the same size.

Anyone watching the spectacle (in and out of the path of totality) will need to wear special glasses specifically designed to view the nearly three-hour celestial show: from the moment the moon touches and exits the view of the sun.

For people with the best view, glasses can come off during totality to view the spectacular sight, but after a few short minutes (it lasts longer in some areas) - you'll need to put them back on.

Without the glasses, doctors tell Sinclair Broadcast Group you could put yourself at risk of developing solar retinopathy: eye damage that occurs after staring into the sun.

“You won't feel it because the retina doesn’t have any pain fibers, but the damage can happen after a few seconds,” Russell N. Van Gelder, MD, PhD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology said. “You would notice the symptoms within hours of exposure. Symptoms can include blurry vision and blind spots."

"Additional symptoms may include color blindness, distorted vision, and headache.”

Alex Young, PhD, associate director for science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, says even though there are no pain receptors in the retina - the damage can occur without even immediately feeling it.

“The visual effects of the damage may not be apparent until several hours after the damage is already done,” Young warns. “This damage can be temporary or permanent depending on how long you are exposed so it is important to simply not do it.”

Michael S. Kirk, post-doctoral fellow at NASA with Catholic University of America, says that you can also get blisters on your retina.

“This is something you have to force yourself to do,” Kirk said. “You’re going to want to look away. If you’re doing something and it hurts, stop it.”

Van Gelder says there is no treatment for solar retinopathy but it is still important to see an ophthalmologist if you experience difficulties with your vision after watching the solar eclipse.

As for experiencing solar retinopathy, “many people recover after three to six months, but some will suffer from permanent vision loss,” Van Gelder said.

“I have patients who viewed the sun 40 years ago, who remain without central vision in their affected eyes.”

The takeaway: keep your special solar eclipse glasses handy, and use them so you don't cause permanent damage.

But look, we're all human. So if you accidentally use the naked eye to look up toward the sun when its not time to take off your glasses (for totality), you'll likely find yourself looking away and grabbing those trusty ocular safeguards.

So its important to make sure you have the right ones.

“You have to be careful with the solar eclipse glasses you wear. They might allow too much light to come through,” Kirk said.

Young recommends that the glasses be extremely dark.

“If you can see more than the sun or normal lights, the glasses are bad. If you look at the sun and it is still too bright so as to be uncomfortable then the glasses are bad.”

When buying protection for the solar eclipse, make sure they comply with the ISO 12312-2 standard. The number should appear on the side of the glasses.

In order to avoid counterfeit products, NASA and the American Astronomical Society have approved of the following product creators who fit the safety standards required.

• American Paper Optics (Eclipser) /

• APM Telescopes (Sunfilter Glasses)

• Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold Film)

• Celestron (EclipSmart Glasses & Viewers)

• DayStar (Solar Glasses)

• Explore Scientific (Solar Eclipse Sun Catcher Glasses)

• Lunt Solar Systems (SUNsafe SUNglasses)

• Meade Instruments (EclipseView Glasses & Viewers)

• Rainbow Symphony (Eclipse Shades)

• Seymour Solar (Helios Glasses)

• Thousand Oaks Optical (Silver-Black Polymer & SolarLite)

• TSE 17 (Solar Filter Foil)