Looking at the solar eclipse caused lasting eye damage for this Islander

Two people who suffered permanent damage to their eyes after viewing a solar eclipse are now warning people to be cautious during the celestial event.

Debbie St. Onge Joslin regrets the way she watched a solar eclipse decades ago

Debbie St. Onge Joslin damaged her eyes looking at the sun decades ago. (Submitted)

Debbie St. Onge Joslin didn't think anything of looking directly at a solar eclipse for 15 seconds in 1972.

She now knows it damaged her eye forever.

"I was riding my bicycle in the middle of the afternoon, and we knew the eclipse was coming, but there wasn't any information that time about how dangerous it was," she said.

Unable to reach a friend's house outside Charlottetown in time to view the eclipse, she simply looked up and watched as the sky darkened.

"We didn't have the same kind of media, I don't remember any exposure [to safety concerns]," she said.

Recent diagnosis

Forty-five years after staring at an eclipse, one of Joslin's eyes is still blurry all the time, particularly while reading.

An a recent appointment, an optometrist told her she has a big black spot on her eyes.

"Either you looked at a welding arc or you looked at a solar eclipse," she said she was told.

"I remembered the solar eclipse, certainly no welding ... Finally the reason was given to me why I never had 20/20, after that burn in my eye."

'I took a risk'

Brendan Elliott believes his left eye suffered permanent damage as a result of a solar eclipse in 1994.

At the time, the spokesman for the City of Halifax was a reporter and photographer at the Kentville Advertiser. He caught a glimpse of the eclipse while looking through his viewfinder.

"I took a risk and unfortunately the risk ended up causing permanent damage," said Elliott. 

Elliott said it took a few weeks for him to realize something was wrong with his left eye, but a trip to the optometrist revealed the extent of the damage.

Prior to the incident, he never had to wear glasses. Elliott said the vision in his right eye is perfectly fine.

"We are not invincible," he said. "I was only 25 years old at the time and I thought 'Oh well, you know what. It's no big deal. They're just being overly cautious.' But if I had to do it again, I definitely would not have looked into that viewfinder."

Artist's rendition of a total solar eclipse. (Canadian Space Agency)

On Monday, a partial solar eclipse will sweep over the Maritimes. Joslin and Elliott both recommend all those wanting to watch it use proper viewing techniques.

This includes either finding certified viewing glasses or watching through a device that protects you from directly looking at the sun.

With files from Anjuli Patil