With the 2017 total solar eclipse set to occur on Mon., Aug. 21 over the US, it’s almost time to break out your eclipse glasses. It’s absolutely crucial to don the protective eyewear while watching the sun get obscured by the moon. Because, if you're wondering what happens if you look at the sun during a solar eclipse without glasses, even accidentally? It could seriously damage your eyes — and perhaps even permanently damage your vision.
According to NASA, those who live in the path of totality — when the moon completely blocks the sun’s face and reveals its corona — will have a few moments to be able to safely look directly at the eclipse with their naked eyes. But the majority of people who live outside the path of totality will need certified glasses to protect their eyes from any damage while watching the eclipse.
While these special glasses may be in short supply these days, that absolutely does not mean you can skip wearing them and watch the eclipse without protection. Doing so will put your eyesight at serious risk. How? Looking straight at the sun during the eclipse without glasses can cause direct thermal injury or solar retinopathy — meaning it can literally burn your retinas, as explained in a recent article from JAMA Opthamology.
While your retinas can handle indirect sunlight just fine, the intense, direct light in such a concentrated area can cause a burn and potentially create an irreparable blind spot. It doesn’t take very long to cause damage either: Per Newsweek, looking directly at the sun for just a few seconds (even accidentally) can create temporary or permanent injuries.
If your eyes are exposed to the sun during an eclipse and you think there is something wrong with your vision, it’s best to visit a doctor right away. Some types of damage can occur without any pain sensation, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution.