New York State Department of Health Urges Extreme Caution When Viewing Partial Solar Eclipse

Lack of proper eye protection can lead to permanent vision loss

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 18, 2017) – The New York State Department of Health is urging anyone who plans to view the solar eclipse on August 21 to avoid looking directly at the sun unless they are wearing special eye protection. Without proper protection, viewers run the risk of damaging their retinas, which could cause an inability to see colors, the loss of central vision or even permanent blindness.

"The solar eclipse is a spectacular event that rarely occurs, so it is only natural that people will want to view it," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker. "But it can also damage your eyes, so we are urging people to use extreme caution and only look at a solar eclipse if you have eyewear with a special solar filter."

A total eclipse of the sun occurs when the moon completely covers the sun, an event that lasts only about two minutes. It will be visible for the first time in almost 40 years in a 70-mile wide band from central Oregon through South Carolina. New York and other parts of the nation will see a partial eclipse of the sun, which occurs before and after the total eclipse. While New Yorkers won't be in the prime viewing area, it's still important to properly protect your eyes. Without special eye protection, viewing a partial eclipse can cause vision loss, even permanent blindness. But, with proper eyewear or a solar viewer, you can safely enjoy this sight of the century.

Looking directly at the sun without the correct eye protection, even for a short time, can cause permanent damage to your retinas, a light-sensitive part of the eye that transmits what you see to your brain.

The only way to look directly at the sun when it's not eclipsed or is partially eclipsed is with a special solar filter, such as eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer. Goggles, homemade filters, or sunglasses, even very dark ones, will not protect your eyes. Also, always avoid looking at the sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, or any other optical device. You'll need to add a certified solar filter to these devices to safely look at the sun.

Eclipse glasses and handheld solar viewers are inexpensive and can be purchased from many retailers. However, not all meet the required ISO 12312-2 international safety standards; make sure yours do. Even if your eclipse glasses meet the safety standards, don't use them if:

  • The lenses are scratched.
  • The lenses are wrinkled.
  • They are older than 3 years.

You can also make your own simple and inexpensive pinhole projector to safely view the eclipse. Be sure to follow instructions carefully, and never look at the sun through the pinhole.