© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Eclipse eye damage can be serious and permanent. Here's how to protect your eyes

A group of kids put on their solar eclipse safety glasses.
Annie Wu
Ideastream Public Media
Kindergarteners and first graders from CMSD's Bolton School try on the safety glasses provided by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for viewing the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse.

Local health experts are warning anyone viewing the total eclipse April 8 to take precautions to protect their eyes from permanent damage due to the sun's ultraviolet rays.

Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, and Dr. Palak Wall, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Akron Children's Hospital, said that looking at the eclipse without protective eyewear can lead to permanent vision damage.

Viewing the eclipse without protection "potentially can burn and scar your retina, particularly the central type of the retina that is called the macula or fovea," Steinemann said. "If you burn the center of the macula or the fovea and it's permanent, you're going to have a hole in your vision maybe for the rest of your life.”

This burn can cause critical damage to an essential part of eyesight, he added.

"The center of your vision is most likely affected. That's tragic, because that's the part of your vision that we read from. Our finest vision is in the center. That's the part that we recognize faces from and if you lose that and it doesn't return, sure, you can see around it, but your vision acuity, your acuity will be affected," he said.

This damage occurs with no pain. It can take a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred, according to Prevent Blindness Ohio.

A little Black girl in a pink jacket with stars wears safety glasses.
Annie Wu
Ideastream Public Media
A student from Bolton School in Cleveland tries on the safety glasses provided by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for safely watching a solar eclipse.

Steinemann said sunglasses are not sufficient to protect the eyes from looking at the eclipse. Instead, what's needed are specialized glasses with the designation ISO 12312-2, which means the glasses filter out ultraviolet light, he said, adding that eyewear without this designation should be avoided.

Akron Children's Wall said the only time it's safe to look at the eclipse without protection is when the moon completely covers the sun, known as the totality. This phase of the eclipse only lasts three minutes and 50 seconds of the hours-long event. Viewers need to have their glasses on when any portion of the sun is shining through, she said.

Wall added parents need to take steps to protect their children from any harm to their vision during the eclipse.

First, closely monitor very young children throughout the eclipse to make sure they keep their glasses on. If a parent does not trust their child to keep the glasses on throughout the eclipse, the best approach is to skip the eclipse or watch it online, she said.

The eclipse can be viewed at NASA TV Live and NASA's YouTube channel.

Another safe option for parents to consider is viewing the eclipse using what's called a pinhole projection, Prevent Blindness Ohio said. This involves making a pinhole in a cardboard paper with the sun on one side and a piece of paper 3 feet away without obstruction to project the image on the other side.

Parents should focus on education when it comes to older children, Wall added.

"For older kids, I think it's important to actually share these risks with them because I think the more they understand about why they have to wear the glasses, the more likely they are to actually do it," Wall said. "Just make sure you're watching them and that you feel that they are mature enough to handle this responsibility."

The most important takeaway is that any harm done by viewing the eclipse without protection could be permanent, she said.

"Although it doesn't feel like it should be that dangerous looking at the sun, partially for some period of time, it's important to just take into consideration how damaging the sun rays can be and that this is permanent damage," Wall said. "There's really nothing we can do once the damage has been done to take that away."

Where to find eclipse glasses

The following Northeast Ohio libraries provide eclipse viewing glasses:

Other locations

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.