UW ophthalmologist anticipates thousands will suffer eye damage in Monday's eclipse

by: John Knicely Updated:

The total solar eclipse on Monday will cover a path across the continental U.S. on Monday, and a University of Washington ophthalmologist tells KIRO 7 he fears thousands of people will suffer eye damage.  To safely view any part of the eclipse, you need certified solar eclipse glasses.  But history has shown not everyone will listen to the warning.

“If history is a guide, there was a similar eclipse about 20 years ago in Sussex, England,” UW Chair of Ophthalmology Dr. Russell Van Gelder said.  “With about 500,000 in the area of the eclipse, in the next day 20 people came in with solar retinopathy.  It's a small number but it's a significant number.”

>> Related: How to protect your eyes and camera during eclipse

The solar eclipse on Monday in the U.S. will have a much larger reach.

“If you think about the fact that there's 10 million people in the path of totality and over 100 million in (the) partial eclipse zone,” said Van Gelder, "we could see thousands of people coming to our offices.”

Van Gelder told KIRO 7 the only safe place and time without the glasses is in the path of totality in places like Central Oregon.  And you can only go without glasses during the 2 minutes the moon fully covers the sun.

“Even if it's only 10 percent of the sun, that little sliver, it still has enough energy to burn the retina and create a blind spot,” said Van Gelder.  “So the people who really need to be the most careful are the people in places like Seattle where it won't be a total eclipse but will be partial eclipse.”

>> Related: This is what a solar eclipse looks like from space 

He says of the people who suffer eye damage in the eclipse, 50 percent will recover their vision, but the other half won't.

If you're suffering vision loss the day after the eclipse, you specifically need to see an ophthalmologist, the only ones who can immediately diagnose it.

This website has a list of all the ophthalmologists in the state of Washington.


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