Total Solar Eclipse: How to See it Safely

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Total solar eclipse

The much anticipated once-in-a-lifetime celestial event – where the moon and sun have the same apparent size – will take place nationwide on Monday, August 21.

The total eclipse will cross the continental United States, and Nashville, Tennessee, is predicted to be one of the most traveled places to witness the event being the largest city within the totality’s path – when the moon completely blocks the sun.

Dr. Mark Ewald, ophthalmologist at HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville who has performed approximately 4,000 eye surgeries, has a passion for both the cornea and the cosmos.

As a board member of the Adventure Science Center, Dr. Ewald has a passion for aiding hands-on opportunities for children and the Greater Nashville Area to experience the world around them. Dr. Ewald along with the Adventure Science Center team has been working as a clearinghouse to ensure the Great American Eclipse viewing will run as safe and as smooth as possible.

Eye protection is a must for the upcoming eclipse and Dr. Ewald addresses key questions about seeing one of nature’s rarest wonders:

Why is it recommended to wear specialized glasses during the eclipse?

Solar eclipse glasses are absolutely needed in order to safely view the sun as the moon passes in front of the sunlight. The sunlight from the eclipse is actually no more dangerous than regular sunlight. However, the temptation to stare at the eclipse is greater than looking at the sun on a normal day.

Will regular sunglasses work?

Eclipse glasses block about 99.9 percent of sunlight, while regular sunglasses do not. Sunglasses are used for viewing indirect sunlight only. Under no circumstance should sunglasses, telescopes or binoculars be used to view the eclipse.

So, what happens to your eyes if you watch the eclipse with the naked eye?

If someone stares too long at the sun – either during the eclipse or on any given day – the retina of the eye can suffer solar retinopathy.

What is solar retinopathy?

Solar retinopathy is a photochemical reaction in your retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eye that sends singles to your brain about what is being seen. Symptoms of solar retinopathy include pain, tearing and redness. But, most dangerously, you would experience blurry vision or loss of central vision.

Is damage reparable or permanent?

Depending on the severity of retinopathy, damage can be temporary or permanent. However, temporary vision loss can last months before recovery occurs. If the damage is permanent, there is not a restorative medication or surgery for the retina.

What should someone do if he or she thinks they have an eye injury as a result of watching the eclipse?

If you are experiencing symptoms, immediately stop looking at the sun. Please seek medical attention for an examination to confirm a diagnosis by scheduling an appointment with an eye care professional.

You don’t have to shield your eyes during the totality, though. Dr. Ewald notes that when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, it is safe to look directly at the eclipse. In Nashville, the totality will last approximately two minutes starting at 1:27 PM (CST).

But, immediately after the totality is over and the sun’s rays start shining again, eclipse glasses should be replaced at approximately 1:29 PM.

Through working with his patients, Dr. Ewald sees how important and essential vision is to communicating, reading, driving – basically most day-to-day functions. He stresses the importance to take preventative measures by wearing approved solar eclipse glasses since there are not treatment modalities for solar retinopathy.

For him, the reason to take care of eyesight is personal.

“During medical school, I found the physiology of the eye interesting, further peaking my interest to become an ophthalmologist,” said Dr. Ewald. “My grandmother had dry macular degeneration, which limited her sight and independence, so I have seen first-hand how important eyesight is for a person’s daily life.”

If you are watching the eclipse next week, practice safety! Be sure to wear your solar eclipse glasses and ensure that the lenses are not tampered with or scratched.

Man wearing suit and tie

Dr. Mark Ewald practices ophthalmology at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. TriStar Centennial is part of TriStar Health, a division of HCA Healthcare. 

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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