How to Keep Kids’ Eyes Safe During an Eclipse

Avoid injury by following the advice of NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine ophthalmologist Dr. Christopher Starr.

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.

 


“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.”

— Dr. Christopher Starr


What is the most important thing that parents need to know if they’re watching the eclipse with their kids?
Keep the eclipse glasses over their eyes the entire time. When they’re actively viewing the eclipse, the glasses need to stay on, and the glasses need to go on their eyes before they look up.

Is it safe to view the eclipse through binoculars or a telescope while wearing the certified eclipse glasses?
If you’re wearing eclipse glasses over your eyes, and you have just regular binoculars or a regular telescope that doesn’t have a filter in front of it, that’s also extraordinarily dangerous, because it’s just like holding a magnifying glass up to the sun and burning a leaf, or a hole in a piece of paper. The magnifying glass or the binoculars or the telescope will intensify the sun and do even more damage. And so many of these glasses that are ISO safe are not safe when you’re looking through a telescope or binoculars that don’t have filters on them. The recommendation of NASA is that if you’re playing around with a telescope or binoculars to look at the sun, you should do it with an astronomer to make sure that it’s safe.

What if a parent can’t find eclipse glasses with the ISO certification? How else can they watch the eclipse?
Use the pinhole method to see the eclipse. NASA has a good video tutorial using a cereal box.