Is It Safe To Look At The Smoky Red Sun? | Dr. Daniel Roth MD, with Lauren Roth

Hundreds of wildfires across Canada are filling the air in New York and New Jersey with a smoky haze, raising a concern for residents to venture outside. The level of risk from wood-burning fires depends on the concentration of the smoke in the air. While a little smoke from a campfire may cause an annoying (or pleasant) smell, more significant smoke exposure may cause burning eyes, runny nose, and lead to exacerbation of lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Wood smoke contains several toxic air pollutants which can induce lung inflammation and contain carcinogens (cancer-causing molecules). When inhaled, these tiny specks can increase the risk of heart attacks, cancer, and acute respiratory infections, especially in babies, children, older adults and pregnant women. Air pollution can harm the developing fetus and increase the risk of low birth weight and miscarriage.

The level of smoke in the air is often described by the Air Quality Index. The index runs from 0 to 500; the higher the number, the greater the level of air pollution. A number that is less than 100 is below the level known to cause adverse health effects. An Air Quality Index number over 100 raises concern for vulnerable groups. Levels over 300 mean hazardous conditions for all and Lakewood has recorded an Air Quality of 360 on Wednesday!

Until the air quality improves, it is best to stay indoors with closed windows and avoid strenuous activities outside.

What about admiring the red sun?

The smoky air has also been giving the sun an orange red hue this week that some may find tempting to look at, especially with its beautiful and unusual color.

But is it safe to look at the sun when it’s obscured by all that heavy smoke?

Even though the sun is 93 million miles away from Earth, its powerful rays can cause significant damage to the retina if one forcibly gazes directly at the bright sun on a clear day. This can result in irreversible vision loss due to damage to the macula or central retina. This is similar to the damage occurring after looking directly at the beam of a strong laser pointer or from gazing at the sun during a solar eclipse without the appropriate eye protection.

Although this type of severe damage does not occur from looking at the less bright sun during sunrise or sunset or at the smoky sun obscured by air pollution, experts advise that the sun can still be harmful to your eyes despite the smoky haze. Most of the problems associated with sun induced eye damage are from the UVA and UVB rays it emits, rather than from the brightness of the sun itself.

Although the smoke particles in the air diminish the brightness of the sun, most of the ultraviolet light is unaffected. The UVA and UVB rays can cause cellular damage and contribute to the advancement of cataract and macular degeneration. Studies have also shown that ocular diseases like certain eye cancers and corneal irritation (called photokeratitis) are associated with exposure to radiation from the sun. So, directly gazing at the sun during sunset and sunrise and during this smoky haze time should be avoided.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) advises to never look directly at the sun and to always wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV or UV400 protection, or sunglasses that block both UV-A and UV-B rays, when outdoors.

It may be ok to take a quick glance and admire the red glowing sun for a moment but not to stare at it … and hopefully Hashem will restore our clear sunny days of summer soon.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Healthline, NY Times, Environmental Protection Agency, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Scientific American

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  1. Dear Doctor Daniel Roth,
    Thank you so much for caring about our health and investing your precious time to give all of us very good advice.
    May the Almighty bless your entire family.

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