a solar eclipse!
The eye experts at Penn Highlands Healthcare remind everyone that if you cannot find solar filters for watching, don’t take shortcuts or chances.

A Solar Eclipse

On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, North America is in for a special event – a solar eclipse! The entire process of the moon covering the view of the sun will last about 2-3 hours.

Those in a 70-mile-wide belt from Oregon to South Carolina will see a brief total eclipse for almost 3 minutes. In our area, the total phase of this eclipse will not be visible but a partial solar eclipse will still be an amazing sight.

And speaking of sight, the eye surgeons at Penn Highlands Ophthalmology want you to keep your eyes safe while experiencing this phenomenon. Penn Highlands Ophthalmology is the office of Thomas Smith, MD, John Fabre, MD, Timothy Marra, DO and Ryan Bisbey, MD.

Though the moon blocks part of the sun from our view and the light of day gives way to a deep twilight sky, the sun has not disappeared. Looking directly at the sun can seriously damage your eyes. “Staring at the sun for even a short time can damage the retina of your eye permanently,” Smith said.

“Sunglasses, even very dark ones, or homemade filters are not safe for looking at the sun. The only safe way to look at the sun during an eclipse is with special solar filters,” he said. Whether, in glasses or a hand-held viewer, they must meet a very specific worldwide standard known as ISO 12312-2. They are thousands of times darker than any ordinary sunglasses. If you hold the ISO 12312-2 lens over an LED flashlight bulb, it will block the light completely.

If you use solar filters to view the eclipse, remember to:

  • Always supervise children using them;
  • Keep your normal eyeglasses on but put the filters over top;
  • Put the filters on before looking up at the sky.

If you cannot find solar filters, don’t take shortcuts or chances. Do not use an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other optical device, and do not use film or any other materials for viewing.

But all is not lost if you do not have solar filters. You can watch the eclipse indirectly - and cheaply. Make a pinhole viewer with two pieces of white cardstock or paper, aluminum foil, tape and a pin or paperclip.

To start, cut a 2-inch square in the center of one piece of paper. Tape a piece of small piece of foil over the hole. Poke a small hole into the foil with your pin or paperclip end.

To use it, place the second piece of paper on the ground. Hold the piece with foil above it (foil side up). Stand with the sun behind you and view the projected image on the paper below.

It may seem simple, and it is. “And it is very safe,” Smith said.

And year-round, remember to take care of your eyes. Too much exposure to the sun’s rays raises the risks of eye diseases, including cataract, growths on the eye and cancer. Even in the snow, there is snow blindness.
Growths on the eye, either fleshy tissue or a yellow spot, can show up as young as people in their teens or twenties, especially in surfers, skiers, fishermen, farmers or anyone who spends long hours under the mid-day sun or in the sunny conditions found near rivers, oceans and mountains.

Diseases like cataract and eye cancers can take many years to develop, but each time a person is out in the sun without protection he or she could be adding damage that adds to the risks for these serious disorders.

Always take precautions, Smith said. Babies, kids and all ages should wear hats and sunglasses regularly. Even on cloudy days, the rays can pass through.

For more information about the ophthalmologists that serve the Penn Highlands Healthcare region, go to www.phhealthcare.org and search “ophthalmologist” on the Find-A-Doctor feature.