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Can you Really Go Blind from Looking at a Solar Eclipse?

Last week, people in South America, Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia and the Middle East saw a solar eclipse. As you may have heard, looking directly at a solar eclipse is very dangerous for your eyes and vision. Nevertheless, this rare event is something that many people want to experience when it does happen. While the next time Americans will have a chance to see a total eclipse will be in August 2017, this is what you need to know to be prepared in protecting your eyes when witnessing this rare event.

Dangers of the Sun

First of all, any time that you stare at the sun, the strong rays can kill cells in your retina. The retina is the light-sensitive area at the back of your eye which receives light from the lens of your eye and sends signals to the optic nerve. If the retina is damaged, this will cause you to go blind. The reason that most people don’t make as big of a deal about this on a regular basis as they do with a solar eclipse is that the sun light is so strong, most people don’t and aren’t able to stare at it. Usually your eye will automatically respond with ways to protect your retina by contracting the pupils, squinting or looking away.

A solar eclipse, however, goes through a number of stages and when the sun is partially eclipsed or most of it is covered, the light does not seem as bright, so the protective reactions from your eye don’t occur. Nevertheless, the part of the sun that is visible is just as strong and intense as looking at the full sun, leaving your eyes vulnerable and unprotected. Further, because a solar eclipse is such a unique event, many people are tempted to look - even when they know they shouldn’t, thinking that a few seconds of exposure can’t really do much harm.

This thinking is unfortunately very wrong.  You may be familiar with the science trick where you can light a paper on fire on the sidewalk using the sun and a magnifying glass. Sunlight is so strong, that when you concentrate the light with a lens, you can start a fire.  The lens of your eye similarly acts to concentrate the sun’s light onto your retina - basically burning it just like the paper in that experiment. A brief encounter -even a few seconds- between your eyes and this intense exposure to the sun is enough to do serious damage.

Usually people don’t realize right away that damage has been done since there is no initial pain with a retinal burn. It can often take several hours for symptoms to manifest and at this point it is already too late.

NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT AN ECLIPSE! In fact, you should never look directly at the sun.

Solutions for Viewing an Eclipse

There are a few options for safely viewing these rare events. First of all, you can purchase special eclipse glasses which are glasses made with specific lenses that block out dangerous wavelengths of light. Alternatively, you can make a pinhole projector which will project a miniature image of the eclipse onto the ground through a piece of cardboard or paper with a hole in it. You can learn how to make a pinhole camera on the NASA website.

So whether you are experiencing a solar eclipse or are out enjoying the warm sunshine, now you know how powerful the sun’s rays really are.

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Dear Patients,

As of Tuesday evening, March 17th, the CDC has recommended that all routine eye care be deferred until further notice, in order to slow the transmission of COVID-19 through our community.

Please be assured that we are still available to triage all urgent and emergent calls during this challenging time.

We are officially closing our offices effective at 3:00pm today, March 20 th and tentatively plan to reopen on April 1 st . We are rescheduling all routine visits and are available by phone to triage ocular emergencies.

Our phone lines will be open:

Monday the 23 rd and 30 th : 10:00am to 5:00pm

Tuesday-Friday (24 th -27 th and the 31 st ): 9:00am to 3:00pm

What does this mean?

1) If you are scheduled for an annual eye examination we will tentatively reschedule you starting April 1 st

2) If you are running out of a medication please contact us and we can transmit a refill electronically to your pharmacy.

3) If you have an issue which cannot wait for an office visit, contact us and we will schedule a Telephone appointment with one of our doctors. Medicare has temporarily relaxed its telehealth rules to allow this type of communication during the pandemic crisis. Other insurers may follow suit and allow for reimbursement of virtual care costs. The consultation must be initiated at your request.

4) If you have an ocular emergency we are, as always, available to help you at any time. Call 1-850-455-0120 andwait for instructions at the end of the message.

Dr. Leonard or Dr. Charbonneau will discuss your condition by phone and make the best treatment decision for you on a one on one basis.

5) Please remember that 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild and resolve within a week. However, if you feel your symptoms are worsening, call ahead before visiting your doctor’s office or emergency department and tell them you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the office protect themselves and other patients.

The CDC has many wonderful resources. Arming yourself and your family with clear information will help you avoid undue stress.

https://bit.ly/2WxWYIe and https://bit.ly/33FBlXZ

Together we will weather this storm.

With sincerest wishes for your continued good health we remain at your service,

Dr. Clare L Leonard

Dr. Mary Charbonneau