You’ve probably heard about the upcoming astronomical event that has more than just stargazers marking their calendars and throwing shindigs. On Monday, Aug. 21, Columbia and other areas of the Palmetto state will be in the path of a total solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, and the moon casts a shadow over Earth.
Total solar eclipses have been visible from various parts of North America only about a dozen times in the last century; however, broad paths across the United States, such as the one coming up, are much rarer. The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the nation from the Pacific to the Atlantic was on June 8, 1918.
It is projected that the moon will begin eclipsing the sun at 1:13 p.m. Aug. 21, and will reach total eclipse at 2:41 p.m. The duration of totality is expected to last around two-and-a-half minutes. During those few minutes, it will become very dark outside.
People are very excited about experiencing what could be the first and only total solar eclipse of their lifetime. Nevertheless, there are health risks that every parent should know about.
“Looking directly at the sun can cause serious damage to your vision,” warns Alexander Pogrebniak, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist for Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group. “It can cause a blind spot or blurring to your central vision, and this damage can be significant and permanent in some cases. You can lose the ability to see detail, to read, or to be able to drive.”
Dr. Pogrebniak explains, “Normally, we have a natural reflex to look away from the sun, to move our eyes away from it. But when there’s an eclipse, people may feel compelled to look before or after the moment of total eclipse, when a bright crescent of sun is still there, and this can be dangerous.”
What can you do to better ensure your child is protected? With the help of Dr. Pogrebniak, we offer the following tips:
- Buy or secure eclipse glasses (or eclipse shades) only from a reputable company. These shades are specially designed to filter out harmful concentrated visible light and near infrared radiation.
- Sunglasses and movie theatre 3-D glasses are not safe replacements! Welding glasses may be used as long as they are manufactured to a rating of 14 or greater. Anything less will be inadequate.
- Once you get eclipse glasses, keep them in a safe place and don’t allow your child to play with them. If the glasses are scratched or the surface is damaged in any way, they will no longer be safe to use.
- Even with appropriately shielded eclipse glasses, we do not recommend looking at the sun for more than a few seconds or at unnecessary times. If children have access to the glasses, they may look at the sun at other times without their parents’ knowledge. We recommend that you dispose of the glasses after the event.
- During the eclipse, keep an eye on your child and make sure he or she is wearing the glasses snugly. Children may be unpredictable in this moment and may either remove their glasses too soon or slip the glasses down the bridge of their nose to peer over the edge.
- If you don’t have the correct glasses, consider using your phone to watch the eclipse as it’s being live streamed from a video app, such as YouTube. You will be able to see the eclipse on your phone while experiencing the environment darkening around you.
- Another alternative is to make a pinhole camera. Visit NASA’s website to learn how.
What should you do if you think your child may have been injured by looking at the sun?
“If they look at the sun, make them wear sunglasses afterward to help soothe their eyes until their vision can be checked by an eye doctor,” recommends Dr. Pogrebniak. “But make sure they don’t look without protection, because unfortunately, for the vast majority of cases, there is no treatment.”
For more information about the eclipse, visit NASA.gov.