Newswise — ST. LOUIS – With the first total eclipse of the sun in four decades less than a month away, the buzz is growing as schools announce they will close for the day, social gatherings are being planned and people are deciding on their “must see” viewing location.

But amid the build up to the big day, it’s critical to consider how your vision can be injured by unprotected viewing, warns Sweta Kavali, M.D., a SLUCare ophthalmologist and retina specialist.

“The eclipse is expected to last a little more than two minutes however the damage to your eyes could last a lifetime,” she says.

“Without appropriate protection, viewing the sun or partial eclipse can cause solar retinopathy, a condition where the retina is permanently damaged that can lead to decreased vision,” Kavali adds. “The vision loss is typically irreversible. On a cellular level, the UV light induces a photochemical reaction that leads to oxidative damage of the photoreceptors.”

Kavali, who also is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Saint Louis University, said it’s not just wearing eye protection but wearing the right kind of eye protection that makes a difference.

“The only safe way to view the eclipse is to use ISO rated eclipse glasses,” Kavali said. “The glasses are specified by ISO 12312-2, which will be written somewhere on the glasses. Dark sunglasses and homemade filters are not sufficient for looking at the eclipse.  Cameras and phones also should not be used to photograph the eclipse without a special filter.”

Kavali said it’s also important to know the signs that your eyes may have been damaged and when to seek medical care.  

“Symptoms can include blurry vision, a central or paracentral scotoma (blind spot) and distortion in vision,” Kavali said. “Solar retinopathy is painless. If you think you are experiencing symptoms, please contact your eye care provider to be examined.”

Saint Louis University

Saint Louis University is a world-class Catholic, Jesuit institution educating nearly 13,000 students on two dynamic, urban campuses - in St. Louis, Missouri, and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, the University will soon celebrate its bicentennial. With a legacy of innovative academics and research, compassionate health care and faithful service, Saint Louis University attracts a diverse community of scholars who push intellectual boundaries in pursuit of creative, meaningful ways to impact the world, striving to serve a higher purpose and seek a greater good.