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The Florida Society of Ophthalmology

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Florida Society of Ophthalmology Urges Solar Eclipse Enthusiasts to Take Precautions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (August 18, 2017) – With the solar eclipse fast approaching, people across Florida are making plans to experience the remarkable occasion on Monday.

But with that excitement comes the need to focus on eye safety and take the necessary steps to prevent retinal damage. Since Florida will not experience the total eclipse – coverage ranges from 78-91 percent depending on the location – the importance of people taking precautionary steps to protect their eyes is even greater.

Respected retinal specialist and Florida Society of Ophthalmology Past President Mark Michels, M.D., F.A.C.S., said the safest way to experience the eclipse is by viewing it indirectly.Mark Michels, M.D.

“The 20 percent [of the sun] that you will still be able to see while looking at the eclipse is going to be enough to cause permanent damage,” Michels said. “The safest way to see it is by looking at an indirect image of the eclipse on the ground.”

Michels, who has written multiple articles about light toxicity, said this can be done by taking a piece of paper with a hole punched out and letting the sun pass through it onto the sidewalk. As an alternative, Michels said people can interlace their fingers like a “waffle-weave,” which would cast multiple squares onto the ground that would be eclipsed.

For those wanting to view the eclipse directly, people can use special filters, but Michels cautioned that only a few reputable companies – American Paper Optics, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17 – are producing glasses that are truly safe enough to use according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. With reports showing those glasses are quickly flying off the shelves, Michels said an alternative safety option for direct viewing would be No. 14 welder’s glass, also recommended by the AAO. Likewise, those wanting to photograph or take a video of the event will need to ensure they use proper lens filters.

“Not only do we have to make sure the filters are coming from reputable sources,” Michels said, “but if there is a scratch or dot in the filter that allows light to come in, you will not get adequate protection and should not use them.”

Without protection, permanent damage to the retina as a result of looking directly into the sun, referred to as solar retinopathy, can occur within a minute. The damage is also cumulative, meaning physical wear on the eye from looking into the sun builds up over time.

“If you look into the sun for 10 seconds and then look away, it is not a case of the clock starting over,” Michels said. “It is a photochemical reaction. Once you look at it directly, the damage is already done and it will build from there if you look into it again.”

Since the retina does not have nerve fibers, people will not feel pain from the sun, causing those who stare directly into to ignore potential damage. While typically people do not go blind from staring directly into the sun, it can cause a severe loss of central vision. In addition to solar retinopathy, damage to the cornea can occur, referred to as keratopathy.

If people experience discomfort from viewing the solar eclipse, Michels recommends they see their ophthalmologist immediately.

“The best people to help them are ophthalmologists because of the medical care they can provide,” he said. “As a retina specialist, I know what to look for. And thankfully with special equipment such as an OCT [Optical Coherence Tomography] machine, it is a diagnosis that is hard to miss.”

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