On August 21, people of all ages will look up to see the sun go dark as the moon casts its shadow along a two-minute-and-40 second, 70-mile path over the country. And while everyone should use proper eye protection when viewing the eclipse, kids need to be especially cautious when looking up at the sun.
To keep kids safe, ophthalmologist Dr. Christopher Starr, director of the fellowship program in cornea, cataract, and laser vision correction surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, says parents should follow a few key strategies to effectively protect kids’ eyes when enjoying the eclipse.
Are children’s eyes more vulnerable to sun damage?
Yes. As people age, the natural lens in the eye becomes sclerotic, or cloudier, and a bit yellower, which gives a little more protection from the sun. Kids are more vulnerable because their lenses are perfectly clear. That means more light and UV radiation get through, making their retinas especially susceptible to sun damage.
If children look at the sun for even 10 seconds, are they liable to experience damage?
There is no safe time to look at the sun without protection, period. Not a split second, not a half a second, not a quarter of a second. At no time should a kid, or an adult, be looking at the sun even as the sun is partially eclipsed. It’s still unsafe. Nobody should be looking up at the sun without eclipse glasses. The glasses should have the ISO 12312-2 certification.
What are the symptoms of damage if parents think their child has hurt himself?
For vision damage, like solar retinopathy, the symptoms would be reduced visual acuity, or black spots in the center of vision that persist long after exposure. Sometimes symptoms don’t start until hours later, which is again why it’s so dangerous and why kids might not realize they’re damaging their eyes. You can also get a superficial burn of the eye, what’s called a keratitis. It’s like a sunburn of the surface of the eye, where it burns, it stings, it tears, it gets red, and that could affect vision as well.