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Eye on the eclipse: How to protect your sight

The solar eclipse will be an incredible sight to see, but eye doctors are cautioning everyone to do their viewing safely.

Robert Fechtner, MD, has a stack of certified eclipse glasses in his office. As professor and chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Upstate Medical University, he wants to make sure the people he knows will be viewing the eclipse on April 8 safely.

“We love watching interesting things,” said Fechtner. “This is truly a miracle of nature, and it’s really, really dangerous to watch it without proper eye protection.”

Fechtner said the eye has a lens in it to focus light, and focusing on an intense light, like the sun, for a long time in one location can cause a burn to the eye’s retina. Because the retina does not have pain sensors, people likely wouldn’t notice the damage until it’s too late.

But Fechtner said that doesn’t mean you need to skip the big event. He recommends wearing certified eclipse glasses to watch, or even focusing on the effects of the eclipse by putting your back to the sun and using a little science.

“A simple thing to do would be you poke a pinhole, a ballpoint pen tip is actually a good size, poke that in a file card or something,” he said. “Then, hold a piece of white paper behind it, and the circle you see is actually the projection of the sun, so as it starts eclipsing, you’ll see it’s no longer a circle. You’ll see that shadow of the moon coming across the circle of your pinhole projection.”

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And if you can get the timing just right, Fechtner said there is a window to watch an incredible event.

“There is a moment where it is safe to take off the glasses, and that is totality, when the moon is completely blocking the sun, you can look and see the corona around the moon,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it.”

Fechtner stresses it is not safe to look at the eclipse through telescopes or binoculars, even with eclipse glasses. Also, keep an eye on kids to ensure they’re using protective eye wear correctly.

The American Astronomical Society has compiled a list of retailers where you can get eclipse glasses.

Ordinary sunglasses are not considered safe. One way to check how well your eclipse glasses work at home is to hold them up to a bright lamp or flashlight. The lit bulb should be invisible or very dim through the glasses, and you should not be able to see the glow around it.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.