PICKENS COUNTY — The upcoming total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 has area residents scrambling to make plans to experience this once in a lifetime event first hand but local doctors are warning people that although beautiful — the eclipse can also be potentially dangerous if viewed improperly.
According to a paper released by the Greenville Hospital System, medical experts warn that anytime you look at the sun for longer than a few seconds, it can lead to permanent eye damage and that it’s not the eclipse itself that poses a threat.
“When unprotected eyes look at the sun for more than just a glimpse, the intense visible light and focused infrared radiation can damage or even destroy light-sensitive rod and cone cells inside the retina, or leave permanent scarring,” the paper reads. “The sun is basically a single, large, continuous thermonuclear explosion, the intensity causes people to have a natural aversion to looking directly at it.”
James Pressly, MD, an ophthalmologist at the GHS Eye Institute, stated that the most common and dangerous is a condition called solar retinopathy.
“We don’t usually see a lot of people with solar retinopathy, as the eye will usually tolerate only fleeting glances at the sun, but it is more common following a solar eclipse,” Pressly said.
Solar retinopathy causes thermal damage from the visible and infrared rays that are focused onto the retina and pigmented layers of the back of the eye, he said.
Pressly said that looking at the sun during an eclipse can actually be even more dangerous than looking at the full sun because the darkness that occurs can lessen a person’s natural tendency to squint or look away.
However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration warn that during an eclipse there is an increased amount of visible and ultraviolet radiation focused on the retina.
Right before and right after totality, even the 1 percent of the sun’s surface visible is up to 10,000 times brighter than the full moon, NASA states.
The greatest danger comes from the fact that someone looking at the sun won’t know they are damaging their eyes. Experts warn that there is no pain and no feeling that the damage is being done. It’s only later that an affected person would notice. The damage can last for days, weeks, months or — rarely — can be permanent.
So how do you safely watch this event? Well, you gotta get yourself some solar glasses. And no, regular old sunglasses won’t cut it.
NASA recommends only using solar-viewing or eclipse glasses that meet the current International Organization of Standards.
These specifically designed lenses have special filters that block at minimum 99.9999 percent of the sun’s visible and non-visible rays to protect your eyes.
“Great caution should be exercised to properly monitor children, as a combination of their natural curiosity and lack of knowledge of the consequences may pose a very real danger,” the GHS warns. “Even for those parents, teachers and caregivers who don’t intend to watch this eclipse, children — especially those who might be outside — should be under close observation for their safety.”
According to NASA, the next total solar eclipses visible from South Carolina (After Aug. 21) will be in 35 years on March 30, 2052, and then 26 years later on May 11, 2078.
The eclipse will be visible in the Pickens County area beginning at 1:08 p.m. and will last for 2:27 seconds.