If you're one of the anticipated 220 million people making the trek to view the eclipse on Aug. 21, I hope you snagged solar glasses before they ran out. By now, we all know that staring at a solar eclipse can cause eye damage without the right kind of protection. According to the many, many articles on the subject, the sun's rays are so strong that they can cook your eyeballs to a crisp even when most of the star is covered by the moon. One doctor even told Space.com that he could see the sun's crescent burned onto someone's retina. But on the off chance that this isn't enough to deter you from staring straight at the eclipse, mouth agape like a turkey in a rain shower, the story of two Oregon men who went partially blind after watching the sun without eye protection will terrify you into submission.
In a Today show segment, two high school friends described their ill-fated experience with a partial eclipse over Bend, Oregon, 55 years ago. In 1962, Lou Tomososki and Roger Duvall were walking home from school when the eclipse occurred. Each then-teenager looked at the sun with one eye for about 20 seconds, then returned to business as usual.
What they didn't know at the time was that by staring at the sun, they permanently damaged their eyes. Tomsoski told the Today show that while he noticed flashes of light as he watched the eclipse, it wasn't until later that the damage became apparent: a blind spot in the middle of his right eye. Decades later, he still struggles to see on that side.
"Nothing has changed," he told the show. “It’s doesn’t get any worse or better.”
As it turns out, Tomososki and Duvall developed solar retinopathy, a condition that occurs when the eye is over-exposed to UV rays. The light basically cooks the retinal tissue, creating a small blind spot. Eclipses are especially dangerous because the sun's rays may not be as painful to watch as it's obscured, but they're just as damaging.
According to the Vision Eye Institute, symptoms also include watery eyes, difficulty discerning shapes, and discomfort when viewing bright lights. Unfortunately, these signs may not be apparent until a few hours after the harm has already been done.
In Tomososki and Duvall's case, that damage was permanent. Now, with the Aug. 21 eclipse set to darken skies across the United States, the two men are making the media rounds in the hopes that other people will take steps to protect their eyes. "How many [people] are going to say, ‘Something happened to my eyes?'" he said, according to the Today show.
If you're planning on watching the eclipse, be sure to use solar protection glasses or viewers. Although these are sold out in most stores by now, you can also catch the eclipse safely by making a pinhole viewer or watching the shadows cast on the ground. Without proper protection, you run the risk of permanent damage — but I'll let Tomososki and Duvall demonstrate the (very real) effects in the video below.