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Can You Look at the Sun with a Welding Helmet? Eclipse Eye Safety FAQ
It is common knowledge that staring directly at the sun can hurt our eyes. Imagine having to stare at something bright like a piece of white paper or a land full of snow. That already strains the eye, doesn’t it? Imagine doing that to the sun, which is more powerful. That can actually have an even more significant effect to the eyes.
If our skin, which is thicker than the eyes, can already suffer from damages, especially with skin type I or those people with very light skin, the sun’s UV rays inflict even more damage to the eyes.
What Happens If You Stare at the Sun?
Most of us have been told at a young age that if we stare at the sun too long, we will go blind. But before that can happen, our eyes suffer through a few stages of injuries and discomforts. First, your eyes start developing sunburns the moment you stare too long at the sun. The sun produces three types of light. The first is called visible light, the second is infrared light and the third of ultraviolet light. UV light inflicts the most damage to the eye, particularly UVA and UVB.
When we expose the delicate layers of our eyes to too much UV rays, our cornea’s cells eventually burn and blister. It will also crack just like what happens if you get a sunburn on your skin. This condition is called photokeratitis.
Of course, the effects do not manifest instantaneously. Only a few hours after you have had a staring contest with the sun will you experience a discomfiting gritty feeling in your eyes as if you have rubbed your eyes multiple times. It may also feel inflamed. If you are lucky, the effects will dissipate after a few hours if you give your eyes enough rest.
However, if you stare at the sun for a longer period of time, you could end up doing irreparable damage to your eyes. That was the case of a patient in 1999 who suffered from solar retinopathy after staring at a solar eclipse for 30 minutes straight.
When our retina senses light, they become overstimulated. When this happens, they release a barrage of chemicals that, when fully concentrated, can be damaging to the tissues that surround it. The more damage the tissues incur, the more unlikely your eyes are to recover. It can still heal in a period of 12 months but too much damage to the tissues can lead to partial blindness.
The macula gets subjected to damages when there is too much UV exposure. As a result, macular degeneration can happen, which also increases your likelihood of suffering from permanent and complete blindness. Staring at the sun too long can also cause the excessive growth of tissues such as cataracts and pterygium.
Can You Stare at the Sun Through a Telescope?
It is also a bad idea to stare at the sun through devices like binoculars or a telescope. These devices do nothing to protect your eyes from the UV damage. If anything, they might inflict even more damages because these are magnifying devices. Have you ever seen one of those videos where they used a magnifying glass to concentrate the rays of the sun to make a fire or fry up insects? That is what will happen to your eyes if you use these devices. The damaging effects are more instantaneous. However, if you use solar filters with them, you can use them safely to stare at the sun.
Can You Look at the Sun with a Welding Helmet?
A lot of people wonder whether welding helmets will suffice as eye protection to look at the sun for an extended period of time to look at the solar eclipse. The answer is yes, you can. However, not all welding helmets out there are created equally. There are specific welding helmets that provide adequate protection to the eyes.
Look for welding helmets that have a minimum shade of 12. If you can get one with a higher shade level, that would work better. These are darker types of filters that protect your eyes from intense glares and UV rays. Some would say Shade 13 is the most ideal as Shade 12 can still be too bright for some and Shade 14 is already too dark.
Got an old welding helmet and you don’t know what shade it is? It is probably better not to use it. Get a more modern welding helmet or one of those auto darkening welding helmets where you can adjust the filter level to your specifications. If you are using auto darkening welding helmets, increase the sensitivity and lower down the delay. That should give you the best transition to a higher shade level.
What About Using Eclipse Glasses? Are They Safer?
You might have reservations about showing up at a solar eclipse viewing party with a welding helmet on. A good alternative is a pair of eclipse glasses – you know the ones that seem like 3D glasses you wear to the movies. But before you wear anything like that, find out first if they are NASA-approved. There are actually unregulated solar eclipse glasses being circulated out there and they might not provide you with the protection that your eyes need.
To be on the safe side, find those glasses that have ISO 12312-2 label on them. These glasses are distributed by a few select companies such as Thousand Oaks Optical, American Paper Optics, TSE 17 and Rainbow Symphony.
Now that you know what intense glare can do to your eyes, make sure you get ample eye protection whenever you do any activity that requires you to see intense glare. Protect your eyes from other possibly blinding issues as well such as snow blindness. That can be just as damaging to the eyes as it tends to have a reflective effect, so the sun’s UV rays can still hit you in the face even when you are not directly staring at the sun.
Custom welding helmets should be easy to buy after reading this.