Newswise — On Monday, August 21, residents of North America will be treated to a total solar eclipse – the first time the contiguous U.S. will witness a total solar eclipse since 1979.

While the desire may be to stand outside and stare at the rare celestial event, Loyola Medicine ophthalmologist and retina specialist Manthan Shah, MD, warns of the serious potential for permanent damage to the retinas if done improperly.

"The main concern is solar retinopathy, which is damage to the eye when staring directly at the sun," Dr. Shah said. "Looking directly at a solar eclipse is the most common cause of solar retinopathy. The radiation from the sun is so concentrated it damages the retina." While those who experience solar retinopathy don't feel pain from the exposure, they can experience:

  • Difficulty seeing shapes and details of objects
  • Discomfort with bright light
  • A blind spot in your central vision

"In the immediate aftermath, it causes a central visual disturbance," Dr. Shah said. "Most people recover from that, but some can be left with central scotomas (blind spot) and sometimes have permanently decreased visual acuity."

The American Academy of Ophthalmology said it is safe to look at the eclipse when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s face, but viewing even a little of the sun peeking out from behind the moon is enough to cause irreversible damage to your vision. They recommend only viewing the eclipse with specialized eclipse glasses. Normal sunglasses do not protect the eye.

"While the solar eclipse is a rare event to experience, it's best to make sure you view it safely," Dr. Shah said. "Retina damage is a serious consequence."

For more information about the solar eclipse and eye safety, Dr. Shah recommends visiting the resources provided by NASA.

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