Solar Eclipse 2024: Ohio State survey says 30 percent of Americans are unaware of eye dangers

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Almost 30 percent of Americans are unaware of the potential for eye damage while viewing a solar eclipse, according to a recent survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

According to the study, 710 people, or 71% of the 1006 people surveyed said they knew eye damage was a risk of a solar eclipse, leaving 29% unaware.

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An additional 23% of survey respondents didn’t know that eclipses posed any risks at all. Dr. Nicholas Kman, an emergency medicine physician at the Wexner Medical Center, said the survey was conducted to raise awareness about the health risks an eclipse—like the one on April 8—could pose.

“People should think about their health when viewing the eclipse on Monday,” Kman said.

What could happen to my eyes if I look at an eclipse unprotected?

Gazing at the eclipse without protection could cause solar retinopathy, when ultraviolet light damages the eye’s retina. The normal symptoms of this are blurred vision, dark or yellow spots in vision, pain in bright light or loss of vision in the center of the eye, according to NASA.

Even when the sun is 99% obscured by the moon, it’s still enough to damage your eyes.

Damage to your retinas could occur after just 30 seconds or less of eclipse gazing. Your retinas don’t have pain receptors, so you might not even know you’re damaging them.

“So if you take five or six, five second glimpses at the sun, those things can add up and can damage your retina, which is the back of the eye that perceives light,” Kman said.

He recommends keeping your ISO rated glasses on at all time when looking at the eclipse.

Are there any other dangers in an eclipse?

According to the survey, more than 10% of Americans believe the eclipse can cause natural disasters, sleep problems and mental health issues.

Eclipses don’t cause natural disasters. In fact, according to NOAA, the only effect an eclipse has on the weather is a temporary drop in temperature while the sun is concealed by the moon.

The celestial events also don’t have any direct physical impact on humans beyond the risk for eye damage, according to NASA. While there is no evidence that eclipses cause sleep problems or mental health issues, they do have a psychological impact. According to NASA, eclipses have caused psychological responses that “run the gamut from human sacrifices to feelings of awe and bewilderment”.

“I can’t think of a way that it would cause psychological issues other than the stress of travel or, heaven forbid, you sustain some type of vision impairment. Those things could impact your wellbeing for sure,” Kman said.

The primary risk that eclipses pose for Ohioans is not from the event itself, but from the people flocking to the region to view it. Traffic could slow to a standstill, large crowds could cause crush injuries, and WiFi and cellular networks could become overloaded. Because of this, Kman recommends preparing for the eclipse like a natural disaster. Here are some tips included in a press release accompanying the survey.

  1. Know the risks: Looking at the sun without proper eye protection can permanently damage the retina. Large crowds have the potential for crush injuries or children becoming separated from parents and caregivers. High use of public WiFi can cause channel overcrowding leading to slow internet speeds or difficulty connecting.
  2. Make a plan: Discuss your eclipse viewing plans with family members and travel companions. Make travel arrangements and expect to remain in that location hours after the eclipse ends. If you are separated from your group, discuss how you will find each other.
  3. Gather supplies: Create an emergency kit with food, water, first aid supplies, medications, cell phone charger, weather-appropriate clothing and a map. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and cash. Bring a solar filter, eclipse glasses or a pinhole projector.