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Eye protection: What patients need to know

06 Aug 2017

By: Scott Stice, MD, Eye Care Physicians and Surgeons

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The Mid-Willamette Valley sits right in the path of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse and offers a once in a lifetime experience! But a few careless minutes of viewing this spectacle without the proper eye protection could leave patients with a lifetime of regret.

Solar filter glasses

Gazing directly at the sun can seriously damage the eyes. The only safe way to look at the sun or eclipse is with special solar filters. Solar filter glasses are 100,000 times darker than normal sunglasses and limit typical viewing distance.

Five manufacturers to date have NASA-certified solar filter glasses or viewers that meet the ISO 12312-2, the international standard for safe direct viewing of an eclipse. They are: Rainbow SymphonyAmerican Paper OpticsThousand Oaks OpticalTSE 17 and Baader Planetarium. Filters should be inspected for scratches or damage and thrown out if damaged. Wear eclipse glasses when viewing the sun ONLY during an eclipse! They are not made for full sun intensity.

Never view the sun through an unfiltered camera, binoculars, telescope or other optical device. Doing so can cause immediate and severe retinal burns. For solar filters using an optical device seek professional advice from an astronomer.

Those seeking more details can find them on the American Astronomical Society website or in this document titled How to View the 2017 Solar Eclipse Safely.

Eye damage

Improper viewing of the sun can cause solar retinopathy, better known as “eclipse blindness,” when high intensity, visible light causes retinal burns. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue situated in the rear of the eye. When sunlight is focused toward the retina, its cells can burn, resulting in poor vision.

The sun’s harmful radiation can lead to permanent damage to the retina even after several seconds of sun gazing. A few moments of unfiltered sun gazing can lead to painless damage to the retinal photoreceptors and thermal burns that may not be visually apparent until several hours after the damage is done.

If patients think they’ve damaged their eyes, contact a local ophthalmologist and have them schedule an appointment as soon as possible. While there is no specific therapy for eclipse blindness, an ophthalmologist may have treatment that could help relieve some symptoms, depending on the severity. Again, the only way to prevent eclipse blindness is through preparation and use of sun filters!


Children and young adults are at the greatest risk for sustaining eye injury during eclipse viewing and require assistance in order to view the eclipse safely.