Opinion Solar Eclipse
solar eclipse AP/File

This March 9, 2016, file photo shows a total solar eclipse in Belitung, Indonesia.

August 18, 2017

No, it's not even safe to look at the eclipse through Transitions® lenses

As all of you probably know by now, a solar eclipse will give Americans who look skyward a rare treat today.

And as some of you already know, I am a staunch believer in the benefits of Transitions® lenses, what with their ability to serve as both regular eyeglasses and sunglasses without the wearer even noticing the – wait for it – transition.

Well, last week, as I pondered my safe eclipse-viewing options, I reached out to the good people at Transitions® via Twitter and they got back to me with some quality #safetyfirst pointers.

“While many people believe they should be able to safely view the eclipse through their sunglasses or Transitions® lenses, the reality is it is never safe to look directly at the sun,” read the article they shared. “But there are safe methods for looking at the sun during an eclipse, and they exist to help protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays, harmful infrared and intense visible light that will be emitted during this celestial event.

“The good news is that Transitions has your back – and your eyes – on every other non-eclipse day of the year.”

Obviously, I wanted some more information, as the eyesight of myself and my family is very important to me. So, my good friends at Transitions® got me in email-touch with Dr. James Vann, optometrist and Transitions brand ambassador for some edification.

Here’s what Dr. Vann had to say:

I’ve been told that Transitions’ parent company Essilor has some ISO-certified eclipse glasses for safe-eclipse viewing on Monday. What sets them apart from my current Transitions lenses?

While sunglasses block harmful UV rays, they do not block harmful infrared or intense visible light that can cause solar retinopathy from staring at direct sunlight.

For this reason, sunglasses are never safe for looking directly at the sun. Solar eclipse glasses have met the ISO 12312-2 international standard and block 100 percent of harmful UV and harmful infrared light as well as blocking 99.99 percent of intense visible light.

So while your Transitions are the perfect way to protect your eyes from harmful light 364 days of the year, August 21 will require a separate pair of glasses.

What do eclipse glasses actually do?

They block 100 percent of harmful UV and infrared light and 99.9 percent of intense visible light, which is the ISO 12312-2 international standard for safe solar eclipse glasses. For this reason, they must be worn at all times during the eclipse.

The only exception – and the only way to look at the total eclipse safely – is if you’re in the path of totality. At the moment when the moon completely covers the sun and there is no longer any direct sunlight coming toward you, experts claim it is then safe to remove your eclipse glasses, though it’s still very important to be vigilant to protect your eyes before and after totality.

Keeping in mind, the total eclipse only lasts a minute or two in some locations.

Why shouldn’t you look at the eclipse, and how would you know if your eyes have suffered damage?

Looking at the sun can be uncomfortable, but it will not cause physical pain, so people don’t realize they are damaging their vision.

In the short term, excessive exposure to UV can literally burn the cornea, just like it does the skin. This is called Photokeratitis, and it can cause redness, pain, loss of vision and a feeling of grittiness.

Looking at the sun can also cause solar retinopathy which occurs when bright light from the sun floods the retina after staring at the sun for too long. This condition can also be referred to as “eclipse blindness,” and its effects can be permanent.

You may not immediately see the damage that is caused to your eyes either – but UV radiation can damage the outside structure of your eye. Brightness and intensity of light damages the focal point of your eye, which sometimes can be reversed but many times is permanent. Your eye doctor can identify the signs of sun damage by examining your eye.

Are there stories of people actually going blind or suffering severe damage from past eclipses?

Yes, eclipse blindness is actually a thing. The technical term for the condition and damage is solar retinopathy and it occurs when bright light from the sun floods the retina.

Most people can’t stand to look at the sun long enough to cause damage, but the eclipse (partial or total) makes it more comfortable to stare for a longer period of time. This misconception is the biggest reason people damage their eyes during the eclipse.