By Adam Harris
The upcoming total solar eclipse has western North Carolina abuzz. Our area is directly in the path of the 68-mile-wide band that will experience totality, so locals and tourists alike are making plans to spend the day witnessing this historic event on August 21.
In addition to the awe and wonder this incredible natural phenomenon will bring, there are a few safety pitfalls to beware of when planning your day around the eclipse. The obvious safety concern is the potential hazard to your eyes while looking toward the sun. Because observing the eclipse will be a three-hour outdoor event for many people, there are also less obvious hazards associated with dehydration and skin protection.
Here, we address those health and safety hazards and how to avoid them with help from two experts:
- Arielle Lankford is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with Mission Children’s – Sylva.
- Christi Whitworth is the Director of Learning Experiences with the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, located in Transylvania County.
Protecting yourself from the sun
Lankford: Most families know that they need to use sunscreen, but many people don’t use sunscreen properly. It’s important to use the right sunscreen and apply it correctly in order to truly keep your family safe from the sun and avoid sunburn.
When choosing a sunscreen:
- Use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or higher.
- Choose one that is labeled “broad-spectrum” so that it protects the skin from ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays.
- Use lip balm or cream that has SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips from sunburn.
When applying sunscreen:
- Apply sunscreen at least 15 to 30 minutes before going in the sun.
- Apply sunscreen to all the skin that will be exposed to the sun, including the nose, ears, neck, scalp and lips.
- Apply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours while in the sun or sweating a lot. The SPF value decreases if a person sweats heavily.
- If you need to use sunscreen and insect repellent with DEET, do not use a product that combines the two. You can apply sunscreen first and then apply the insect repellent with DEET, but the sunscreen needs to be reapplied every 2 hours.
With infants, it’s best to avoid exposure to direct sun when possible. Protective clothing or a shade is recommended.
Protecting yourself from dehydration
Lankford: You lose water throughout the day, especially through sweat. You lose even more fluid on a hot day spent in the sun. You need to replace this lost fluid to stay healthy. If you don’t get enough water, you could become dehydrated, which is dangerous. While all liquids help you stay hydrated, water is usually the best choice.
A common recommendation is to drink six or eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluid every day. But some adults may need more or less, depending on their level of health. It’s a good idea to increase your water intake when spending more time in the sun than usual.
For children, the recommended water intake increases based on age. Children aged 1-4 years should consume 5 to 7.5 8-ounce bottles or cups per day. Children aged 6-9 months get most of their fluid from formula or breast milk as opposed to water. Parents may want to increase the intake of breast milk or formula with prolonged exposure to heat or sun.
Viewing the eclipse safely
Whitworth: For those viewing a partial eclipse, use eclipse glasses, a scope with a proper filter or a projection device for the entire time you’re viewing. For those viewing the eclipse within the 68-mile band where totality will be visible, use the aforementioned eclipse protection devices up until the beginning of totality. At that point, look away from the sun and remove your eclipse viewing device. During totality, you can view the sun safely with no eye protection. Shortly before the duration of totality ends, look away from the sun again to put your glasses or other protection device back on. Remind children frequently to follow the procedure closely.
To recap the safety procedure:
- Use glasses or a protection device to view the sun leading up to totality.
- Just before totality begins, look away from the sun to remove your glasses or protection device. It is safe to observe totality with no eye protection.
- Before the duration of totality ends, look away from the sun to put your glasses or protection device back on before continuing to observe the sun.
Pay attention to the estimated times associated with your exact location. The duration of totality for every location is listed on the interactive map on eclipse2017.nasa.gov, so I would recommend using a clock on your phone to time totality, which will be precise enough to keep you safe.
Be sure to observe the approved standards on any glasses or eclipse protection devices you plan to use for viewing the eclipse. Look for the following ISO stamp: “Meets the requirement for ISO 12312-2:2015” to be sure your glasses are safe and effective.
- While using any eclipse protection devices, do not walk around or drive. Many people underestimate the extent to which these devices impair your vision.
- Be careful not to let your eclipse protection devices get damaged. If they get crinkled or punctured, they’ll let light directly through to the eye, which will be dangerous.
- For toddlers, I recommend rectangular eclipse viewers with the solar viewing material. They are easier to store and can be helpful to allow parents to manipulate the child’s viewing.
Get the most out of this rare natural phenomenon
Whitworth: If it’s your first eclipse, just sit back and enjoy it and notice all the different changes around you in the environment. You will hear different sounds, feel different temperatures and experience other physical observations that aren’t happening in a partial eclipse. Your body will be bringing in a tremendous amount of data. Also, don’t bother with pictures. Just enjoy the experience, capture that experience for you and your family as a memory.