A 70-year-old man who experienced permanent eye damage from looking at the sun during the solar eclipse of 1963 is warning the public not to make the same mistakes he made.
Portland-based Louis Tomososki was only 16 years old when he looked straight at the sun in the partial solar eclipse of 1963. Tomososki told Fox affiliate KPTV he only lasted about 20 seconds watching the eclipse.
But that’s all it took to cause permanent eye damage to Tomososki, who is now warning others to take precautions when viewing Monday’s solar eclipse.
Solar eclipse veteran warns his blind spot hasn’t gotten any better over the years
The total solar eclipse this Monday is attracting thousands of people who are eager to see the phenomenon. Unfortunately, every time there’s a solar eclipse, some people don’t take the warnings seriously and look straight at the sun.
Tomososki was a 16-year-old high school student in 1963, and he and some friends wanted to take a look at the partial solar eclipse. It was a total solar eclipse in Canada and Alaska, but the path of totality did not go through Oregon.
He went to the baseball field at his school, Marshall High School in Portland, Oregon, and closed his left eye to see the solar phenomenon with his naked right eye.
“Oh 20 seconds probably, that’s all it took,” Tomososki told KPTV. “I’m glad I didn’t go 40 seconds, it would have been even worse.”
Tomososki says he doesn’t remember when he noticed there was a problem, but those 20 seconds were all it took for the sun to burn a hole in his retina. Ever since he has had a sizable blind spot in his right eye, he describes his blind spot as looking at someone and being able to see their face, but not their nose.
The blind spot was discovered during an eye exam he took when he joined the Air Force right after high school. He noted that ever since he got it, the blind spot hasn’t gotten any better or any worse.
“Every time we go to an eye doctor now for an exam, they dilate your eyes and look in there, the first thing they say is, you looked at a solar eclipse sometime in your life,” Tomasoski said.
Solar retinopathy can occur by staring at the sun for just 20 seconds
Tomososki’s condition is called a solar retinopathy, or damage to the retina that happens when you look directly at the sun. That damage occurs because the eye’s lens focuses the sun’s rays on a single point at the back of the eye.
Dr. Brandon Lujan, an assistant professor of Opthalmology at Oregon Health & Science University’s Casey Eye Institute, noted the same damage could occur on any other day if you stare at the sun, not just in solar eclipses. However, with the solar eclipse, even when the sunlight is reduced by the moon, infrared and UV rays can still cause severe damage to the retina.
“Some damage occurs pretty quickly, but a lot of damage can take hours to days to really come to bear,” Lujan told KPTV. “Unfortunately there’s not a treatment for it, so once that damage is done you have to wait and hopefully things improve and your body can heal some, but a lot of damage can be permanent.”
The damage occurs in the fovea, a small spot in the retina that is responsible for sharp, central vision. Patients with solar retinopathy can have blurry vision or a central blind spot in their eyes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
People with the condition show a characteristic pattern of eye damage during eye exams. Dr. Russell Van Gelder, a clinical spokesman for the AAO and director of the University of Washington Medicine Eye Institute in Seattle, told Live Science a solar retinopathy looks like someone “took a hole punch and just punched out the photoreceptive cells in the retina.”
Use eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers to view Monday’s eclipse
Anyone planning to see the solar eclipse on Monday must use special eclipse glasses, which are designed to protect the eye from the sun’s infrared and UV rays. The American Astronomical Society also recommends handheld solar viewers that contain solar filters, in case you don’t own eclipse glasses.
Experts say the only time when it’s safe to look at the sun is during a total solar eclipse when the disc of the moon has completely covered the sun. However, that only applies to the people viewing the eclipse in the path of totality, in which they will actually see the sun blocked by the moon.
If you’ll watch the eclipse outside the path of totality –which is about 70 miles wide and goes from Oregon to South Carolina—is necessary to use protection at all times. Van Gelder told TODAY when the disc of the moon covers the sun and corona of the sun is visible, it is safe to look at it. But the second the sun comes out “the eclipse glasses have to go back on.” It’s important to highlight the same thing can happen to cameras, so if you plan to snap some photos of the solar eclipse, put the glasses on the lens.