How bad can viewing the eclipse without proper eye protection hurt your eyes?

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -  “You can actually cause permanent un-treatable vision loss by staring at the eclipse unprotected,” says Dr. Neena Singhal James, Optometrist at 20/20 Eye Care Center.

Questions about how to protect your eyes have been pouring into the newsroom. Can you be outside while the eclipse is happening without protective glasses on? Dr. James said yes! “It is safe to be outside, it’s not going to cause any damage to your body or anything. And if you’re not directly looking at the sun it is safe.”

But if you do plan to take part by watching the natural phenomenon, looking at the sun without protective glasses, “Is not safe at any time. Even if it’s just a sliver of the sun visible,” said Dr. James. “The only way to protect yourself is with ISO certified special glasses just for viewing the eclipse."

Not sunglasses.“Polarized sunglasses are not going to cut it," said James.

The Tennessee Valley will not see the full eclipse, so your protective glasses will have to remain on the entire time. But Dr. James said even with the gear, you don’t want to stare for too long. “You want to look up and look away even with the protection," said Dr. James. “Even if you are wearing the glasses, viewing the sun, I'd say for more than 60 seconds is not recommended at all.”

And if you plan to take photos to preserve the moment forever, you'll want to make sure you take the proper precautions so the image isn't burned into your retinas. “Camera lenses, binocular lenses, telescope lenses, you need to have a special filter that goes on the objective lens, not the eyepiece.”

The eclipse is much different on your eyes than the day-to-day sunlight. “When you look at the sun normally you do get some sensation, some discomfort, it’s bright”

And you look away. But during a solar eclipse, "There will be no discomfort at all and you’ll be able to look at the sun comfortably.”

That’s because it’s not as bright. But the risk for damage, without proper eye protection, is still very much there. “I have seen people completely lose vision, damaging the macula which is the very center part of your vision. That’s what gives you your fine detail vision, the ability to read and see faces. And I’ve seen that be completely obliterated by solar retinopathy," said Dr. James.

That’s because, “There are no pain receptors in the retinas. So you would not have any idea you were causing this damage.”

That is until hours later when the symptoms occur. “Distortions in vision, trouble seeing shapes, or soreness or light sensitivities.”

And by then. It’s too late. “It is very devastating. Your vision is very precious and that is something we cannot treat.”

Dr. James said it’s also not a bad idea to try other methods when watching the eclipse with kids like using a pinhole projector or even having kids watch it live on whnt.com.