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All across the country, skygazers are getting ready for the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse -- the first total eclipse in the U.S. in decades.
In far-southern Illinois, people will be within the "path of totality," where they'll be able to see the full eclipse. In the Chicago-area, residents will be able to view a partial eclipse when the moon blocks about 90 percent of the sun. It's important to take steps to protect your eyes, regardless of your location when viewing the eclipse. Staring at the sun -- even during a sky-darkening eclipse -- requires safety precautions above and beyond wearing dark sunglasses. People who try to watch the eclipse without the specifically designed eye protection risk causing permanent damage known as solar retinopathy and eclipse retinopathy. Even more concerning? People who've injured their eyes during an eclipse may not even be immediately aware they're damaged.
We asked Asim Farooq, MD, an assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at UChicago Medicine, to share his best tips to safely watch the eclipse. The expert on corneas and eye disease, who treats patients in Hyde Park and at UChicago Medicine's new downtown ophthalmology clinic, said he's been fielding questions from patients for weeks ahead of the big celestial event.
Asim Farooq: The main problem that can occur is damage to the retina, causing loss of vision or even blindness. What is the retina? If you think of the eye as an old-fashioned camera, the retina is like the film. The vision can take several months to recover, or vision loss can even be permanent. There are various names for this condition, such as solar retinopathy and eclipse retinopathy.
Damage can occur in as little as one minute, and it doesn't have to be continuous -- in other words, staring at the sun for a few seconds at a time still isn't safe. Because the sky is relatively dark during an eclipse, we may not close our eyes reflexively.
One of the dangers of eclipse viewing is that we don't feel any pain while the retina is being damaged. The retinal changes can take several months to recover, or they can be permanent.
The proper eye protection is thousands of times darker than regular sunglasses and will have a label that says "ISO 12312-2." Dark sunglasses don't block enough light to prevent damage to your eyes.
Special solar filters block not only the intense visible light from the sun, but also other types of light (i.e. ultraviolet and infrared) that can cause damage.
Unfortunately, there are some products being sold online with an ISO label that are not up to standard. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has a list of reputable vendors listed on their website, which I have provided here. I would recommend using one of these vendors.
Yes, I've had a number of people ask me for safety tips. My best advice is to buy ISO-certified eye protection from a reputable vendor, gather some friends and family, and enjoy the event!
I plan to spend the day doing eye surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine! Want more information? Check out the American Academy of Ophthalmology's solar eclipse eye safety infographic.
Highly skilled ophthalmologist, Dr. Asim Farooq, provides comprehensive care for a wide range of eye conditions, including cataract surgery, corneal transplantation surgery, and correcting common vision disorders (nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism) using refractive surgery.Learn more about Dr. Farooq