OPINION | KATIE BROWN: Protect your eyes

Proper eclipse precautions a must

We all know not to look directly at the sun because it will damage your eyes. But what about when there is an eclipse? Is it safe then?

The 2024 total solar eclipse is April 8 in the continental United States. This once-in-a-lifetime event is the first total solar eclipse to cross Arkansas since 1918. The path of totality, where the sun is completely covered by the moon, will last a little over two minutes in Little Rock and up to twice as long in the southwestern corner of the state.

This amazing phenomenon is worth seeing, but you need proper eye protection to see it safely.

The UAMS Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute has some of the nation's top eye researchers and clinicians, but it doesn't take an eye-care specialist to tell you that sunlight hurts your eyes.

There are several ways that the sun's light can harm your eyes. Focused sun rays can damage the back of the eye, called the retina, permanently. This is called solar retinopathy. Another more painful condition, solar keratitis, can cause a sunburn to the cornea, which is the front of the eye.

Vision loss may present as a blind spot or black spot in your vision, color loss or even distortion of your central vision. You may not immediately notice these problems for several hours. If you believe you have eye damage, see an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.

Here are some common questions that eye-care specialists receive about viewing an eclipse:

How can I safely look at the sun during an eclipse? The safest way to look at the sun during an eclipse is to use eclipse glasses. These are specially made and tested and can fit over most glasses. Only wear eclipse glasses with ISO 12312-2 filters. Always keep your eclipse glasses on while looking at the sun.

Where can I find eclipse glasses? Many local retailers sell eclipse glasses for as little as $1 a pair. Some libraries may offer them for free if you have a library card. The Jones Eye Institute will be handing out eclipse glasses the week before the eclipse to our patients and the community.

Can I use old eclipse glasses to view this eclipse? Eclipse glasses can be used indefinitely. If you have leftover ISO 12312-2 eclipse glasses from a previous eclipse, inspect them for any scratches, tears or holes in the dark solar filter. Make sure the filter is firmly attached and not peeling off. If any of these issues exist, do not use them.

Are pinhole projectors safe to look at an eclipse? Pinhole projectors are a fun project to do with kids at home and can make the eclipse a learning experience. This indirect viewing method projects the eclipse onto a flat surface without the need for eclipse glasses. For instructions, visit jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn. Do not look directly at the sun with a pinhole projector.

What else can I use to look at an eclipse? Only ISO 12312-2 eclipse glasses are safe to use for an eclipse. Do not look at the sun using 3D glasses, sunglasses, binoculars, telescopes, compact discs, space blankets, polyester balloons or food wrappers. Large, dark post-mydriatic glasses that you receive from your eye doctor after a dilated exam are also unsafe.

Will my pets be safe during an eclipse? Animals, unlike us, have no reason to look up at the sun during an eclipse. They will be fine without protection.

For more information on safely viewing an eclipse, the American Astronomical Society is a great resource. Visit eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety.

Remember to protect your eyes while viewing the eclipse April 8 and have fun. Use this natural phenomenon as an opportunity to increase your understanding of the world around you.

Katie Brown, O.D., is an optometrist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute and an assistant professor of ophthalmology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

Upcoming Events