What are the symptoms of eye damage from viewing a total eclipse?

ECLIPSE 2017: The view from SC State Museum in Columbia

A look at the 2017 solar eclipse from Columbia's SC State Museum
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A look at the 2017 solar eclipse from Columbia's SC State Museum

Carolinians have been repeatedly told that the Monday solar eclipse will damage their eyes if viewed without protection, but if history is any indication, some people will look anyway.

Following a solar eclipse in the United Kingdom in 1999, several thousand people rang helplines or attended special eclipse clinics, reported an article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. One study done after that eclipse found 45 people with possible eclipse-related eye damage showed up at a clinic in Leicester, England, reported LiveScience.com.

Columbia South Carolina experienced a total solar eclipse.

Of that number, 40 were confirmed to have damage or symptoms of damage, and five had visible changes in their retina, LiveScience said.

In this May 20, 2012, file photo, the annular solar eclipse is seen as the sun sets behind the Rocky Mountains from downtown Denver. David Zalubowski AP

So how will you know if you’ve been a victim Monday? Experts say it could take days before symptoms show up, but early signs could include “dim” sight and afterimages. (Oxford astronomer John Greaves was once quoted as saying the afterimages looked like a flock of crows in his vision, reported LiveScience.)

PreventBlindness.org says victims may also experience sensitivity to light, eye pain or loss of vision in one or both eyes. Other indications:

▪ Loss of central vision.

▪ Distorted vision.

▪ Altered color vision.

Exposing your eyes to the eclipse without proper eye protection can cause “eclipse blindness” or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy, said PreventBlindness.org.

“This exposure to the light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain,” said PreventBlindness.org. “This damage can be temporary or permanent and occurs with no pain. It can take a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realize the damage that has occurred.”

The American Optometric Association said millions of people from Oregon to South Carolina are facing the danger of eye damage when the moon covers part of the sun for 2 to 3 hours. The sun’s light will be blocked for up to 2 minutes 40 seconds.

If you should experience discomfort or vision problems following the eclipse, the association advises making an appointment with an optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination.

Here are four ways to safely view a solar eclipse from the American Optometric Association:

▪ The only safe way to view a partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or viewers that meet international standard ISO 12312-2 for safe viewing. Sunglasses, smoked glass, unfiltered telescopes or magnifiers, and polarizing filters are unsafe. If you can't find eclipse viewers, build a pinhole projector to watch the eclipse.

▪ Before looking at the sun, cover your eyes with the eclipse viewers while standing still. Glance at the sun, turn away and then remove your filter. Do not remove the filter while looking at the sun.

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