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ECLIPSE 2024: Whether through special glasses or a colander, watch it safely

Optometrist Dr. Marianne Hopkins cautions against looking directly at the sun, even with ISO-certified eclipse-viewing glasses on

Niagara-on-the-Lake optometrist Dr. Marianne Hopkins warns that the damage to your eyes caused by looking at the sun for any amount of time can be irreversible.

Because of that risk, she advises that the absolute safest way to look at the solar eclipse is indirectly, “watching it on TV, or a recording, or using a pin-hole camera that projects a shadow of the change of the sun.” Hopkins, who owns a practice on Mary Street, says something as simple as using a colander as a pin-hole camera would work. “I recommend those options for children.”

That’s because children might not have the same sense of restraint when it comes to staring at the sun. And doing that can cause solar retinopathy, resulting in permanent damage to your vision. 

“The lens in the eye burns a hole in the retina,” says Hopkins. “There’s no coming back from that. You can end up with a black spot in your vision, and that’s for life.”

She also warns people with macular degeneration, a condition that reduces their central vision already, should take special care when viewing the eclipse. because they have a limited ability to recover from excessive light. 

Everyone has probably had the experience of being briefly accidentally exposed to a bright light and seeing an after-image of that brightness for some time. 

“That’s because the retina is one big chemical reaction,” Hopkins explains. “When all the pigments in that part of the retina are used up, it takes some time to recover.”

But there’s no recovery from the damage done by standing and staring at the sun deliberately for any amount of time. 

Hopkins is a self-professed “astronomy nerd” who plans to experience the totality of the solar eclipse on April 8 safely. And she wants to ensure everyone else does. 

To that end, she has been distributing from her office solar eclipse viewers along with some information about how to view the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon safely. 

“It’s not just about distributing the glasses,” she says, “but it’s also about educating people on the safest way to view it. I wanted to get the word out there. Then I thought it would be a great way to raise funds for Newark Neighbours, to support others in the community in a different way.”

Thus far she has already raised $5,000 for the local charity by accepting donations in exchange for up to four pairs of solar viewing glasses. 

These glasses are nothing like your RayBans or Oakleys that you keep in your car. Looking through the solar shields, which are ISO 12312-2 rated, you see blackness. No infrared light or ultraviolet rays penetrate the filters. In fact, 99.999 percent of visible light is blocked. The only thing that can be seen through them is something as bright as the sun. 

Some welding shields may be sufficient to provide the same protection, but Hopkins suggests it is important to ensure they are fitted with the same ISO 12312-2 filter.

Even with those solar viewers on, though, Hopkins suggests you should still discipline yourself to take glimpses during the eclipse, which is expected to last between three and four minutes as the totality passes through Niagara. 

Hopkins says the symptoms of solar retinopathy can show up from within hours of the damage occurring to within a couple of days. Because there are no pain sensors in the back of the eye, there is no indication of the inflammation caused there. 

A retinal scan in an optometrist’s office would show that inflammation. Eye drops may alleviate some of it, she says, and there is a chance she would be able to reduce some of the damage slightly, but generally it does not go away. 

“I sometimes come across a patient who has solar retinopathy discovered in their regular eye exam,” she says. “It was usually from an event, maybe they were dared to look at the sun when they were a kid. It tends to be in both eyes. There’s not much we can do.”

That’s why education and prevention is important to her. And she advises regular eye exams and wearing sunglasses all year long as part of your eye care routine.

The astronomy nerd is closing her Mary Street office the day of the eclipse so her staff can enjoy it. She’s planning to watch the event safely with her family at her St. Davids home, with a supply of solar viewing glasses on hand, of course.

“Either in my front yard or on the roof, it all depends on where the sun is that time of day,” she says. “Hopefully it won’t be overcast. I’m excited about it. I even have a cousin from Ireland coming to visit. It’s a pretty big event.”

In addition to being a reporter for The Local, Mike Balsom is also the host of The Source on YourTV Niagara. On April 8 he will be hosting YourTV’s live coverage of the total eclipse beginning at 2:00 p.m. from Niagara Falls.

Other ECLIPSE 2024 articles from the NOTL Local: 

St. Davids students take a trip to the moon

Provincial task force has been key in preparing for the eclipse

Niagara police and emergency services ready for the biggest crowds ever

The science, mathematics and history behind it

Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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