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How to stay safe when viewing solar eclipse

By Dr. Linda Chous • Aug 14, 2017 at 5:09 PM

The first total eclipse of the sun to span coast to coast across the U.S. mainland in almost a century will be visible Monday, Aug. 21, for people in Ohio, where eclipse coverage will exceed 75 percent.

This rare celestial event is a spectacular occurrence; however, there are precautions people should take to help maintain their eye health while witnessing the spectacle in its full glory. Looking at a solar eclipse without proper protection can cause serious eye damage, including blurry vision that can last months, or even permanent problems.

The most important tip is to have proper eclipse-viewing glasses, which are heavily tinted – much more so than regular sunglasses — to protect your eyes as you look at the sun. Certified eclipse-viewing glasses will enable you to see the moon track across the orb of the sun until it creates a total eclipse, revealing the sun’s brilliant corona.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks any part of the sun. But on Aug. 21, anyone within a roughly 70-mile-wide path from Oregon to South Carolina will be able to experience a total solar eclipse for about 2 minutes, weather permitting. Millions more, including people in Ohio, will be able to witness a partial eclipse.

In preparation for this rare event, UnitedHealthcare is donating 10,000 solar-eclipse glasses, as well as educational materials with tips to safely view the eclipse, to schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, including 400 glasses in Columbus.

Here are five tips to help safely view the solar eclipse, according to the American Optometric Association:

• It is unsafe for anyone to look directly at the sun at any time or during a solar eclipse, other than if you are located in the path of totality during the brief total phase of the eclipse.

• Use approved solar eclipse glasses and avoid fake viewers that are being sold; a list of approved vendors is available here. Read and follow any instructions packaged with or printed on the glasses.

• Do not look at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses, as the concentrated solar rays can damage the filter, enter your eyes and cause serious injury.

• Eclipse glasses should be removed only once the moon completely blocks the sun along the path of totality. Once the sun reappears, glasses should be replaced.

• Visit a local eye care professional for a comprehensive exam if you or a family member experience discomfort or vision problems following the eclipse.

The upcoming solar eclipse should be a fun and educational opportunity as long as you take the necessary precautions. If you miss this spectacle, the next time a total solar eclipse will traverse the entire U.S. mainland will be on Aug. 12, 2045.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Linda Chous serves as chief eye care officer for UnitedHealthcare.

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