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Health professionals prepare for potential eye injuries

Health professionals prepare for potential eye injuries

August 20th, 2017 by Philip Joens in Local News

Callaway County director of tourism Renee Graham puts on eclipse viewing glasses. The Great American Eclipse will take place Aug. 21. Several events have been planned in Callaway County for the days leading up to the eclipse.

Photo by Connor Pearson /News Tribune.

Jefferson City hospitals are preparing for a potential influx of patients with eye injuries in the hours, days and weeks after a rare total solar eclipse Monday.

Thousands of stargazers and visitors across Mid-Missouri will watch the eclipse Monday afternoon. A local ophthalmologist said he expects to see a rise in patients with serious eye injuries. A local hospital also told the News Tribune it began preparing for the solar eclipse about a year ago.

Between 11:46 a.m. and 2:41 p.m. Monday in Jefferson City, thousands of stargazers will turn their eyes to the sky to watch the first total solar eclipse to pass over the continental United States since 1979. From 1:13-1:15 p.m. Monday in Jefferson City, the moon's shadow will appear to completely block out the sun when the eclipse reaches totality.

The Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau ordered 30,000 pairs of protective eclipse glasses and will sell pairs Monday as long as supplies last. Samuel's Tuxedos owner Sam Bushman expects to sell 10,000 pairs of eclipse glasses by Monday; other local businesses have also been selling the glasses.

The Missouri State Parks Department also sold eclipse glasses. However, the agency said Friday it cannot confirm the glasses it sold across the state meet safety standards, according to an Associated Press article. The department warned eclipse watchers to not use those glasses; refunds are available from parks and historic sites.

While the glasses cost only $1 or $2 per pair, experts nationwide inevitably think some people won't heed advice to use the glasses or look only at the sun with their naked eyes only during totality. Dr. Philip Wilson, an ophthalmologist with Jefferson City Medical Group, said this can lead to retinal burns.

"What happens is, when you look at the sun during an eclipse or another time, the light both visible and non-visible can potentially burn the nerve tissue in the back of the eye," Wilson said. "It can cause you to go blind."

Retinal burns are not normally common, Wilson said. After the eclipse, though, his office and other eye doctors around Jefferson City could see a small uptick in patients from Jefferson City and other towns around Mid-Missouri, he said. He noted symptoms often don't set in right away.

"It can be a delayed response. Not necessarily right after the eclipse, but maybe in the coming weeks we could see a few more of those cases than we typically see — because it's not very common, but it does happen."

Lindsay Huhman, spokeswoman for Capital Region Medical Center, said the hospital has been preparing for the eclipse for almost a year. Huhman said it's important for adults to always supervise children looking at the eclipse and make sure they are viewing it only through eclipse glasses.

She also said not to look through a telescope, camera or binoculars without an appropriate filter for the device because the concentrated solar rays could damage the filter on the eclipse glasses.

"While there is definitely potential for eclipse viewers to present local emergency departments with eye injuries specifically, quantifying that number is a challenge," Huhman said in an email.

Wilson said JCMG is selling eclipse glasses and encouraging patients to wear them during the eclipse. While Wilson also expects more patients in his office after the eclipse, he said his office doesn't have plans set for what may happen after the eclipse because he also is unsure how many people may come in.

"We're just going to play it by ear and be ready to work on anybody that has eye problems after the viewing," Wilson said.

No need to worry about pets' vision. Michelle Thaller, assistant director of science for communications at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Washington Post, "Animals are actually quite a bit smarter than we are when it comes to looking directly at the sun."