solar eclipse photo
Credit: NASA

Solar Eclipse is an Opportunity, and Also a Responsibility

By Nichole R. Moos, OD August 16, 2017

The Great American Eclipse is drawing a lot of attention, and as optometrists, this provides us and our practices with a great opportunity. And with that opportunity also comes a lot of responsibility.

It's imperative that our patients understand the risks surrounding this event. Damage to the photoreceptors that can be caused by viewing the eclipse without proper eye protection can lead to long-term vision loss presenting as reduced overall visual acuities and/or scatomas (visual field loss). As we know, this can have detrimental impact on people’s lives, especially in children. 

From a public health standpoint, it's our duty as eye care professionals to inform our patients how to properly protect their eyes and prevent vision loss. While it may seem like common knowledge not to stare directly at the sun during normal lighting conditions (or when there is no eclipse), during the eclipse patients may be tempted to stare at the sun with unprotected eyes for longer periods of time. This is not only due to the grandiose nature of the event, but staring directly at the sun during the eclipse will not be as painful. Due to the moon blocking the majority of the sun's UV rays, patients will lack that knee jerk reaction to look away. The rays that do reach the patient are still just as toxic, regardless of the pain experienced by the patient. 

We, as doctors, should be educating every patient who sits in our chairs about eye safety surrounding the eclipse. Reach out on social media, or even send out an email blast. Patients will appreciate the knowledge and the attentiveness of their doctors.   

Some practices are handing out or selling eclipse filters in their offices. This can definitely help to drive more patients into your practice or encourage referrals; however, it can also be a double-edged sword. It is never 100 percent safe to stare at the sun. While we want to encourage and educate our patients to view the eclipse safely, using the filters incorrectly can still result in vision loss. If an optometrist supplies the filter and vision loss ensues, the optometrist may be liable. On the other hand, not providing eclipse filters may cause patients to use the improper form of eye protection or no protection at all, which will definitely cause damage to vision. Education is key, regardless if you are providing the filters in office or directing patients to the proper vendors to purchase their own. 

Our practice is sending out an educational email to promote safety awareness. The doctors and staff are also opening dialog to stress the importance of protecting vision. 

If your patients are going to participate, find ways to encourage them to do it safely. As I see it, the Great American Eclipse can be a very dangerous thing for our patients, but with the right education and guidance, it can also be fun. Don’t forget about pinhole cameras and projectors! Have a "how to" video playing in the lobby, or a handout on how to create your own pinhole projector. It can be a great project to get the kids and family excited about the eclipse.

Share what your practice is doing to promote eye safety prior to the eclipse.

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