Looking at the eclipse for just seconds without proper glasses can cause permanent damage. Credit: Photo on the right: JAMA

If you’re planning to watch the solar eclipse on April 8, ensure your solar eclipse glasses aren’t fakes. Uncertified glasses are flooding the market, and ophthalmologists warn that using them could cause permanent eye damage. This happened to one New Yorker after the 2017 solar eclipse.

Mount Sinai Hospital says one of their patients watched that eclipse for 20 seconds without proper eye protection. Within a few hours, her vision was blurry, and she could only see black. Doctors later found crescent-shaped retina damage. It was the exact shape of the visible part of the sun during the eclipse. She was diagnosed with solar retinopathy and left with permanent eye damage. 

The image at the top of this story on the left is from a JAMA study, which shows her retina damage. Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, the Mount Sinai ophthalmologist who led the study, says approved glasses have special solar filters that can protect your eyes. But to ensure you get safe ones, buy them from a reputable supplier, which might not be from your local Facebook group. 

If you think you will be able to “tell” that your glasses are fake – think again. The lack of pain is not a reliable indicator of safety. 

In a Mt. Sinai Today blog post, Dr. Deobhakta says even if you look at a solar eclipse with your bare eyes, you won’t feel immediate pain. He says that, usually, because the sun is so bright, we can’t look at it long without it being uncomfortable. But during the eclipse, we can be fooled into thinking it’s safe because you can look at it for a while without glasses and without it hurting. And while the eclipse blocks most of the sun’s rays, the partial rays you see are the most damaging.  

Tips to ensure your glasses are safe:

Only buy solar eclipse glasses from reputable suppliers.
  • Glass filters must be up to international safety standards and labeled as “ISO 12312-2” compliant. 
  • Be careful of counterfeits often sold online. 
  • The American Astronomical Society recommends you buy glasses approved by the organization. A list is available on its website.
  • Do not use binoculars or special lenses that magnify the eclipse—these can focus the sun’s rays into the retina and cause damage.
  • If you record the eclipse on your phone, do not look at the screen while recording. Watch the video later. Additional photo tips are below. 

Keep your children’s eyes safe

According to New York-Presbyterian, children’s eyes are more vulnerable to sun damage than adults’. Doctors there say that as we age, the natural lens in our eyes becomes cloudier and yellower, offering more sun protection. But children’s eyes are perfectly clear, allowing more UV radiation to get through, making their retinas more vulnerable to sun damage. 

Some symptoms of eye damage in children that parents should watch out for: 

  • Reduced vision 
  • Black spots in the center of vision 
  • Superficial burn of the eye, which is similar to sunburn 

No glasses? You can still view the eclipse safely

If you can’t find glasses from a reputable company, you can make a pinhole camera to watch the solar eclipse. NASA has easy directions. This is also a fun activity to do with kids! 

How to safely take photos

Make sure your kids also have eye protection.

If you plan on taking photos with your phone, do it safely. Do not look at the sun through an unfiltered camera lens. According to NYU Langone, this can be more dangerous than viewing it through your bare eyes, because the wrong lenses can intensify the harmful power of light. 

You will need a special solar filter if you want to take a close-up of the eclipse. This filter is different from the ones in the solar eclipse sunglasses. Here are some other tips from NYU Langone: 

  • Don’t use the flash. 
  • Lock the focus on distance or “infinity” (depending on your camera settings).
  • Use a normal or wide-angle lens.
  • Enabling “burst mode” can capture several images as the sun changes.
  • Keep your eclipse glasses on when taking photos. 

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