Dr. Willie Thomas of Family Vision Care in Missoula isn't mincing his words about Monday's solar eclipse. Don't look at it without the proper eye protection, or permanent damage could occur.

Dr. Thomas said great care must be taken when trying to view the eclipse.

"Obviously, looking at the sun at anytime can be damaging to the eyes, and particularly can damage the macula, a very special part of the retina that allows us to see clearly," Dr. Thomas said. "The very center of our vision can be damaged by looking at the sun, and that's irreversible damage in many cases. If you can find eclipse glasses, make sure they are authentic by looking for the International Standard stamped on the glasses, and that's an ISO-123-12-2 will ensure that's a safe product for looking at the sun."

Dr. Thomas said aside from the safety provided by the certified eclipse glasses, making a pinhole viewer can be a fun project for the family and the eclipse can be viewed indirectly, without having to look at the sun.

Dr. Thomas said people who try to look at the eclipse without protection may or may not notice the damage to their vision immediately.

"Oftentimes it'll feel like there's just a glare, like when you experience the glare from a car and the vision returns to normal," he said. "Sometimes the eye can recover, but after several days your vision is still blurry because it damages the very center of your vision, and once that optic nerve is damaged it just cannot regenerate."

Dr. Thomas said parents must be especially careful with children who want to view the eclipse.

"When mom and dad look up, the natural things is that kids want to look up, too, and they might get more exposure to the damaging rays of the sun. If you do have eclipse glasses, don't look up at the sun until those glasses are fully in place, and then, don't remove them until you're looking fully away from the sun."

Dr. Thomas said there are lots of websites that will be showing the eclipse, and that would be a completely safe way to enjoy the experience without risking your eyesight.

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