Although a total solar eclipse is not a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, it is still relatively uncommon, and rarer still for it to occur precisely in your region. However, even if you are fortunate enough to witness such an event, you may not necessarily want to watch it. The reason is simple: solar eclipses can be hazardous to your eyes, especially if you don’t take adequate precautions.
Regular sunglasses or even many specialized lenses may not provide sufficient protection, leaving you vulnerable to eye damage. It’s essential to purchase the proper safety equipment well in advance of the event. During the lead-up to the 2017 solar eclipse that traversed the United States, supplies of specialized eclipse glasses ran out at many stores, including big-box retailers and eyeglass shops, leaving some people scrambling for less-effective alternatives. These included faulty solar eclipse glasses, unverified solar viewers, and even welding helmets.
If you’re planning to observe the next significant solar event in your region, be sure to order your safety equipment early and don’t settle for partial protection. This article will provide guidance on how to select the appropriate glasses and explain why getting it right is crucial for safeguarding your vision.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS OF SOLAR ECLIPSE VIEWING
Looking directly at the sun is harmful to your eyes, and fortunately, our bodies instinctively react to the danger. The blink reflex or corneal reflex makes our eyes blink when exposed to bright light, which helps protect them from damage. However, during a solar eclipse, the visible light from the sun is much dimmer, and the lack of a cue to the corneal reflex may make it tempting to look at the event without proper protection.
This can be extremely dangerous as even a single unprotected glance at the eclipse can put your eyes at risk of developing retinopathy, a type of eye damage that destroys photoreceptors and can cause permanent or temporary sensitivity to light, and even blind spots. While the likelihood of severe eye damage is relatively low, eye experts caution that there is no safe amount of unprotected sun-watching. Additionally, symptoms of vision damage may not appear until approximately 12 hours after the incident, long after you can take action to mitigate the risks.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T GET SOLAR ECLIPSE GLASSES FROM A TRUSTED SOURCE IN TIME
If you’re unable to find solar eclipse glasses from a reliable source, don’t worry – you still have options. However, it’s important to do your research and carefully consider any alternatives you come across. Be wary of cheap lenses or those available in large quantities at the last minute, as they may not meet the necessary safety standards.
The 2017 solar eclipse saw a significant number of individuals using unsafe and counterfeit solar eclipse glasses. These included unauthorized glasses that had not been approved by national or international bodies, glasses that were scratched or improperly maintained, and people using insufficiently shaded eye protection. These posed a significant risk to vision, and many suffered from damaged eyesight as a result. If you’re unable to find reliable solar eclipse glasses, a welding mask is a viable alternative to consider.
FROM WELDING TO SOLAR ECLIPSES: HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT SHADE FOR YOUR HELMET
To safely view a solar eclipse, it’s crucial to use the right protective gear. NASA, news channels, and online store reviews all emphasize that low to medium shade ratings are not sufficient to protect your eyes. For welding masks, shade ratings of 12 or 13 may be adequate in certain situations, but shade 14 is the darkest and most recommended rating for solar eclipses. This rating is specifically designed for extreme welding conditions and provides complete protection to your eyes, limiting visibility only to the area surrounding the sun itself.
However, even with a shade 14 rating, you should not stare at the sun for too long, and the helmet is only safe when viewing the sun in its totally eclipsed state. A partially eclipsed sun is still too bright for the helmet to protect you, and the damage to your eyes might not be immediate or noticeable. Therefore, it’s important to use lenses with solar filters that meet internationally set safety standards to view the eclipse safely without any worry of damage to your eyes. Make sure to research and order the appropriate gear well in advance.
Comprehensive coverage is one of the main advantages of using a welding helmet as it protects the entire surface area of your eyes and the skin surrounding them. This reduces the risk of indirect radiation exposure and prevents you from inadvertently glancing above the lenses. When considering alternatives to a full welding mask, it’s important to choose lenses that are wide enough to cover not only your eyes but also your peripheral vision. For the best viewing experience, experts recommend standing still while looking at total solar eclipses.
Although shade 14 welding masks are a viable alternative, solar sunglasses specifically designed for solar events provide better protection. To order your pair of solar sunglasses in advance of North America’s next total solar eclipse in 2024, check out Phillips Safety’s collection of solar eclipse glasses.