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An eye on eclipse-watching safety

Chicago — On Monday, the United States will witness the largest total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years, and the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) and its Foundation are urging Americans to take sight safety seriously when viewing the event by offering a free safety tip sheet at asrs.org/eclipse.

Over the years, reports of patients developing vision loss while viewing solar eclipses have been documented around the world.

“On August 21, whether you are in an area that experiences a partial eclipse or along the 70-mile ‘Path of Totality’ where the moon will cover the sun completely for two minutes, regular sunglasses simply won’t cut it. Proper eye protection is critical for preventing sight-threatening solar retinopathy,” said Geoffrey G. Emerson, MD, PhD and chair of the ASRS Research and Safety in Therapeutics Committee.

Viewing an eclipse without proper eye protection can damage the retina, the delicate, light-sensing tissue that is responsible for sight. Solar retinopathy occurs when the retina is burned and its light-sensing photoreceptors are destroyed. Depending on the extent of the injury, people can suffer residual blurring and/or distortion, temporary or even permanent vision loss.

Solar retinopathy occurs more commonly around the time of a solar eclipse, but can occur at any time due to incidents such as having a laser presentation pointer shined in the eye or from sun gazing due to psychiatric conditions or purposeful self-harm.

“As retina specialists, we work with patients who are robbed of sight by brutal and most often unpreventable disease. But vision loss due to solar retinopathy is preventable,” said ASRS Foundation President Tarek S. Hassan, MD. “We want Americans to understand the potential dangers and have the information needed to enjoy this unique spectacle safely.”

NASA recommends the use of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 12312-2 certified eclipse glasses or pinhole projection for viewing the eclipse.

The ASRS is the largest retinal organization in the world, representing more than 3,000 retina specialist members, who are board-certified ophthalmologists with advanced fellowship training in the medical and surgical treatment of complex retinal diseases. The Foundation focuses on efforts to improve the lives of those with retinal diseases and to support the physicians who care for them.

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