Solar Eclipse: How to Avoid Eye Damage

People are still buzzing about the solar eclipse that was visible across much of North America on Monday morning – the first of its kind since 1979 – which cast just over 2 minutes of darkness across parts of Western Canada and the United States. The next solar eclipse that North Americans will be able to experience won’t be for another 7 years – in 2024. However, it’s never too early for Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary to warn people about the effects that looking at an eclipse can have on your health.

Ali Ghahary - Solar Eclipse Phases
Phases of a Solar Eclipse

Despite the moon covering the sun, looking at it directly during an eclipse can still have harmful and irreversible effects on your eyes. Looking at the sun with your naked eye can burn the retina, causing severe damage to the eyes which can lead to temporary or even permanent loss of vision – including blindness, a disability that currently affects an upwards of 1 million Canadians.

Ali Ghahary - Eclipse GlassesBy looking at a solar eclipse without proper eye protection (and depending on the length of time you’re looking at the sun), you are at an increased risk of doing significant damage to your eyesight. The only way to safely view a solar eclipse is by wearing protective eyewear – and no, sunglasses don’t count – no matter how much UV protection, no matter the brand, and no matter how expensive. Instead, to ensure your eyes are protected during a solar eclipse, you must wear special protective eyewear known as eclipse glasses. With a similar look to 3D glasses, these special eclipse glasses block 99.99% of the sun, whereas wearing a normal pair of sunglasses only blocks 60%.

If you happened to look at Monday’s solar eclipse without a pair of those special eclipse glasses, it is important to remember that the retina has no pain receptors. As a result, you will not notice any immediate symptoms of eye damage. In fact, it takes as long as 12 hours before symptoms actually show up. The most common signs and symptoms that you’ve harmed your eyes as a result of looking at the solar eclipse include blurred vision as well as the appearance of a dark spot or spots. It is not uncommon for distorted vision to get better over time – however, it can take several months to a year before your vision goes back to normal, and in some cases the damage can be permanent.

If you are noticing any strange, sudden changes in your eyesight and think it may be a result of looking at the solar eclipse, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends seeing your optometrist in order to get a complete eye exam. If your optometrist notices anything of concern, he or she will then refer you to an ophthalmologist to further assess your vision.

For detailed insight on vision loss (as well as other disabilities and their causes), visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog on Blogspot. You can also find more information by following Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.