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The dangers of solar gazing including during solar eclipses

16 March 2015

A solar eclipse will take place on Friday 20 March 2015.  In the UK and Ireland, dependent on their location, people will see a partial eclipse, with up to 97% of the sun blocked out.

Whilst a solar eclipse is an amazing and infrequent event, the general public must remember that they should not look directly at the sun or at a solar eclipse either with the naked eye, even if dark filters such as sunglasses or photographic negatives are used, nor through optical equipment such as cameras, binoculars or telescopes. There is no safe system to directly view an eclipse.  Viewing the sun in such ways may lead to retinal burns which can cause significant and sometimes permanent loss of sight.

Particular care should be taken with children. Children should not be allowed to look directly at the sun at any time. The only safe way to view the partial eclipse is indirectly with the recommended cautionary measures as outlined in the Royal Astronomical Society guide* and always under adult supervision for children.

Looking directly at the sun at any time and through optical equipment significantly increases the risk of permanent damage to vision. After a solar eclipse episode, ophthalmologists have seen patients who present with solar burns to the retina and or macula. Such patients may experience loss of vision, which is not always immediate and may take some hours or days to develop.  Sadly there is no proven or effective treatment for this condition which is termed solar retinopathy or solar maculopathy. 

A consultant ophthalmic surgeon commenting on a typical case of solar gazing said, ‘A young patient presented with problems with their vision.  On examination, using special high definition retinal imaging testing, the patient was found to have solar maculopathy, a result of using a telescope to directly view the sun. The patient now has reduced central vision which makes tasks like reading difficult.’