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Protect Your Eyes: Officials Offer Tips To Safely View Eclipse

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - If you're watching the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, be sure to protect your eyes.

"The intensity of light that comes out of the sun is capable within 10 seconds or less to do what we call photic damage," says Allegheny General Hospital ophthalmologist Dr. Thierry Verstraeten.

He has seen this kind of damage to the back of the eye, the retina, where light is received to make vision, especially among people on drugs in the 1970s who would stare into the sun.

"When an ophthalmologist or optometrist looks in your eye, you will be able to see that scar. It will be tattooed and seared in there for the rest of your life," Dr. Verstraeten said.

Some potential eclipse watchers are being cautious.

"Would I protect my eyes if I were looking directly at the sun? Certainly. With what, I don't know."

Unfortunately, people have the wrong ideas about what is protective.

"I would probably just go outside and watch it."

Watching it with the naked eye is dangerous, and even more so with a telescope, binoculars, or camera.

"It focuses the light even more intensely and more precisely on the retina," Dr. Verstraeten said.

"If you're eclipsing the sun, that's less sunlight."

While the sun is "completely" blocked by the moon, it is true, that is the only safe time to view the eclipse directly.

"The problem is the few minutes before, people will want to peek. And the few minutes after, as the sun starts to reappear, that's the highest danger," Dr. Verstraeten said.

Here in Pittsburgh, we are only expecting an 80 percent block.

"Wear sunglasses."

"People have the misconception that sunglasses, oh they're 99 percent UV blocking, are going to give them some protection. And the sad truth is it doesn't even come close," Dr. Verstraeten said.

You need special, solar filtering sunglasses with the label ISO-12312-2, available online and at a variety of chain and convenience stores.

"We're still worried they're going to still try to look at 'em without the special glasses, so we're going to order them for everybody."

And be sure to protect the kids! They are the most vulnerable, with their young, crystal clear lenses.

They're often unsupervised in these late days of summer, and susceptible to games of dare.

"If you have a macular scar at the age of 4, 5, or 6, you're pretty much done. The vision will never develop right," Dr. Verstraeten said.

Buyer beware, though. Counterfeits and knock-offs are everywhere.

"This is a good way to test them: put them on and look at a light in your own living room, and you don't see it? It's a safe bet they are good," Dr. Verstraeten said.

If you do look at the eclipse without protection, you may notice a spot in your vision afterwards, like you get after a camera flash. But, symptoms of damage may not be immediate.

"It will just stay there and stay there, and after a few days, your vision that is pretty cloudy will actually get darker, like a blind spot," Dr. Verstraeten describes. "No surgical or medical option once the damage is done. It's done."

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