Why is looking at the eclipse in Asheville bad for your eyes? — Solar Retinopathy and Its Symptoms
Western North Carolina is gearing up for The Great American Solar Eclipse. Moments like this are rare and require good vision to see it. We won’t harp on getting regular eye exams so that you can see life’s little moments (although that is SO important). We don’t want you to miss this once in a lifetime event, but it is so important that you do it SAFELY.
Why is looking at the sun bad for your eyes?
Have you ever used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays on a leaf to start a fire? It only takes a moment before the leaf starts to smoke and burn. These are the things that essentially can happen to our eyes as well. This is what can happen to our eyes by gazing at the sun.
The front of our eyes, the cornea and lens, are our eye’s focusing structures. They focus light on our retina so that we can see. Looking at the sun, these structures act like a magnifying glass and focus the suns energy on the back of our eye, effectively cooking or burning the structures of our retina. This is called solar retinopathy. This is the same reason why welders must wear protective eyewear. Their welding arc’s have a similar wavelength to the solar energy and can also burn our eyes internally, permanently decreasing vision.
Symptoms of Solar Retinopathy
Symptoms of solar retinopathy can happen up to 4 hours after gazing at the sun and can present without pain. The symptoms of solar retinopathy are:
- Blurry vision
- A central or near central blind spot (unable to see things that you are looking directly at)
- Changes in color vision
- Objects that should be strait may seem wavy or distorted (for example, the corners of walls may appear wavy)
- Light sensitivity/watering
Even staring at the sun for as little as one minute can cause solar retinopathy. Thus, this once in a lifetime event can have a lifetime of consequences if we arent careful.
How to view the Eclipse Safely
If you want to look directly at a solar eclipse, you need to wear “eclipse glasses”. Asheville is not in the path of totality. This means if you are in Asheville proper or east of Asheville, it will never be safe to look up at ANY TIME without protection because the sun will be visible at all times during the eclipse. If you are in the path of totality (West of Asheville) the only time it will be safe to look up without protection is for approximately 1 minute when the moon is ENTIRELY covering the sun.
The moral of the story: wear eclipse glasses if you want to see the eclipse and still want to be able to “see” life’s little moments afterwards!