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Avoiding “Eclipse Burns”

Expert Chats

A Mass. Eye and Ear retina specialist weighs in on how to enjoy the solar eclipse without causing permanent, irreversible damage to your eyes.

On August 21st, the sun will cross paths with the moon, and the United States will see a solar eclipse from coast to coast for the first time since 1918. Here in New England, we are outside of the path of totality, and will see a partial eclipse.

While it may be tempting to watch this celestial phenomenon directly, you should never look at the sun without protection. Doing so, even for a short period of time, could severely damage your vision.

“It’s dangerous to stare into the sun – sometimes vision comes back, and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Dr. Jason Comander, associate director of the Inherited Retinal Disorders Service at Mass. Eye and Ear. Dr. Comander co-authored a study in 2011 on solar maculopathy, or “eclipse burns,” which may reduce visual sharpness permanently. There is no treatment for the condition.

The good news: there are ways to enjoy the eclipse and protect your eyes…

Safety Glasses

For those with time to plan ahead, NASA has some guidance on glasses with special-purpose solar filters to protect your eyes. (Buyers beware: There are some glasses that claim to be compliant when they are not. Refer to the American Astronomical Society’s list of reputable vendors to be sure any glasses you order are verified to be compliant with ISO 12312-2 international safety standards.)

Making Your Own Pinhole Projector

If you don’t have time to grab those fancy glasses, there is another way to safely watch the eclipse this year. With a piece of paper and a pencil, you can make your own pinhole projector.

Graphic on how to make a pinhole projector.

A pinhole projector allows you to view the shadow of the eclipse’s crescent. To make one, simply poke a pencil or thumbtack through a sheet of paper. Make sure the poked hole is smooth around the edges for a clearer projection. With your back to the sun, hold it up against another sheet of paper or the ground or sidewalk, letting the sunlight shine through the hole. When the moon begins to pass the sun, you’ll be able to see a crescent on the other piece of paper or ground/sidewalk.

Solar Eclipse “Art”

You can even create different designs with your pinhole art. In a recent interview with NBC Boston’s Kristy Lee, Dr. Comander described this viewing method, and shared some Mass. Eye and Ear-themed pinhole art:

If the pinhole projector is your method of choice this year, we want to hear about it! Share your solar eclipse art with us on Twitter and Facebook, tagging us @MassEyeandEar. We’ll share our favorites in a future blog post.

4 Comments

Reply

  1. Shannon Manzi

    Please post acute treatment pearls for clinicians seeing patients with solar retinal burns. Thank you.

    • Suzanne Day

      Hi Dr. Manzi, thank you for reading! we checked in with Dr. Jason Comander, who emphasized that, as there is no known beneficial treatment for solar retinopathy, prevention through education is paramount.

  2. dk

    You don’t say how to stand with the paper….towards the sun? with your back to the sun??

    • Suzanne Day

      With your back to the sun. Thank you!