Tidelands Health stresses solar eclipse safety

Dr. Gerald Harmon, a family physician at Tidelands Health, explained how glasses made to view the solar eclipse work. (Liz Cooper/WPDE)

Thousands of people across the country are planning to watch the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. As those people prepare for it, so too is Tidelands Health.

The health care system is offering free solar eclipse safety glasses to some area residents.

"I initially ordered 10,000 and I thought, 'I hope I can give away these 10,000.' We gave away 10,000 in 12 hours," said Amy Stevens, the VP of marketing and communication at Tidelands Health. "And then I thought, 'I need to order more glasses.'"

Stevens said they're giving away 1,000 to 2,000 a day. She said they plan to give away a total of 75,000 and they only have about 8,000 left. They're only available for people who live in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

"At the rate they're being ordered, we think they're going to be gone in just a matter of days," said Stevens. She said that's all they can order because the manufacturer is sold out. She said the fact that they're sold out is a good thing since people are being proactive and are planning to watch the eclipse safely.

"The last thing we want is for something really great to turn into something really bad," said Stevens.

Regular or polarized sunglasses will not keep your eyes safe as you watch the eclipse. Tidelands Health recommends using the NASA approved glasses available through them or purchased online.

"They're highly dense and allow minimal light to pass through. They have a high UV filter ratio," explained Dr. Gerald Harmon, a family physician at Tidelands Health. "Anytime you look at the sun, it's a bad thing."

Dr. Harmon said staring at the sun for any period of time can cause permanent damage.

"There are no pain fibers in the retina in the cells in the back of the eye, so it's painless. So, it's kind of really scary," said Dr. Harmon. "You don't know you're doing the damage until you try to look away and say, 'Holy smoke, I can't see, I have a little blind spots.'"

He said it could take hours before you realize the severity. But, there are signs you should look out for if you happen to stare at the sun while watching the eclipse.

"You might get a headache but it won't be an eye ache. You’ll have definite blurred vision and decreased vision. You might find some blind spots when you're looking and you might think you've seen some floaters in front of your eye," said Dr. Harmon. "All those things should be an indication to see your eye care professional."

Only during the brief moment of eclipse totality is it safe to look without your glasses.

If you can't get a hold of the safety glasses, you can make your own eclipse viewing device out of a cereal box. Tidelands Health has step-by-step directions to do so.

"Our role as a health system is to just keep people healthy and safe and so, if we can get you a pair of glasses, if we can tell you how to make a pinhole viewer, that's what we want to do, so this is a great experience for everybody," said Stevens.

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