Local optometrist issues stern warning about looking at the solar eclipse


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The last eclipse to cover this much of United States was in 1918. That’s the last time a solar eclipse went coast to coast.

RELATED: Click here for full coverage of the Great Carolina Eclipse

Here in the Triangle we’ll see a partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Coverage should be around 93 percent.

We’ve all been told not to stare at the sun, but when a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse passes through, naturally that’s exactly what we want to do. However, it can cause permanent vision loss.

Local optometrist Sean Smolenyak from Kelly Eye Center explains what could happen if you stare at the eclipse with the naked eye.

“In no way, shape or form should you look at the eclipse without protective eyewear in place,” said Smolenyak.

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The only time it’s safe to look at the sun is during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse. That’s when the moon completely blocks the sun. However, where we live in central North Carolina, we’ll only see a partial eclipse so you have to wear eclipse approved glasses at all times.

Exposure to UV light via the sun is linked to cataracts, growth on the outside of the eye, and macular degeneration, but there’s an increased threat when looking at an eclipse because it’s more intense.

“The big concern would be damage to the retina, specifically the center part of the vision called the macula,” said Smolenyak.

This could result in a “sunburn effect” to the retina. It could also create a hole in your retina. Both could cause permanent, irreversible damage.

“One of the problems is that you would not feel any pain. What you would notice is sudden blurry vision, or loss of vision, spots in your vision, by that time the damage has potentially already occurred.” said Smolenyak.

It could take hours for the symptoms to occur.

So, when looking at the eclipse, protect your eyes and be sure to inspect your eclipse glasses. If they’re scratched, punctured or torn, discard them.

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