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Chris Higgins on This American Life

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It's shameless self-promotion time! I've been working on a story for my favorite radio show, This American Life, for the past few months. That story airs on tonight's TAL episode ("Held Hostage," Friday, June 4) on WBEZ in Chicago, and then on public radio stations around the country -- check your local listings. A free MP3 and podcast will also be available starting Sunday, for those outside the US or without a radio. I'm very pleased to be on the show, and working with the TAL team has been just what you would expect: awesome and kind of surreal. When you talk on the phone with people whose voices and names you recognize from 15 years of radio shows -- it's like going through the looking glass.

So What's the Story?

Imagine if, every time you became very happy or sentimental -- like every time you laughed, or held your spouse's hand -- you suffered a temporary paralysis lasting seconds, minutes, or even hours? That's the case for Matt, and more than a million others who suffer from narcolepsy with cataplexy. Narcolepsy is something many people have heard of -- it involves "inappropriate daytime sleepiness" and falling asleep at inopportune times. Cataplexy is a related condition that causes patients to lose motor control when an emotional trigger occurs. (The most common trigger is strong positive emotions.) By "lose motor control," I mean -- for people with severe cases like Matt's -- total collapse, although he's still awake inside a body he can't control.

Tonight's story is part of the TAL episode "Held Hostage," and it's about how Matt's disease has affected his life, and how he manages to cope with it. Matt's wife Trish also makes an appearance, and it's narrated by yours truly.

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Johan Ordonez, Getty Images
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This Organization Wants Your Old Eclipse Glasses
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Johan Ordonez, Getty Images

On Monday, August 21, America hosted what may have been the most-viewed solar eclipse in history. While those of us in the United States are still processing the awesome sight, residents of South America and Asia are just starting to look forward to the next total eclipse in 2019—and anyone who still has their protective glasses on hand can help them prepare.

According to Gizmodo, Astronomers Without Borders is accepting donations of used eyewear following Monday’s event. Any glasses they collect will be redistributed to schools across Asia and South America where children can use them to view the world’s next total eclipse in safety.

Astronomers Without Borders is dedicated to making astronomy accessible to people around the world. For this most recent eclipse, they provided 100,000 free glasses to schools, youth community centers, and children's hospitals in the U.S. If you’re willing to contribute to their next effort, hold on to your specs for now—the group plans to the announce the address where you can send them in the near future. Donors who don't have the patience to wait for updates on the group's Facebook page can send glasses immediately to its corporate sponsor, Explore Scientific, at 1010 S. 48th Street, Springdale, Arizona 72762.

Not sure if your glasses are suitable for reuse? Here’s the criteria they should meet for sun-gazing.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Health
Here's How to Tell If You Damaged Your Eyes Watching the Eclipse
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iStock

Amid the total solar eclipse craze, experts repeatedly warned spectators not to watch the rare phenomenon on August 21 with their naked eyes. But if you caught a peek sans glasses, pinhole projector, or protective filter, you may be wondering if your peepers were damaged. (After the sky show, "my eyes hurt" spiked as a Google search, so you’re not alone.)

While the sun doesn’t technically harm your eyes any more than usual during a solar eclipse, it can be easier to gaze at the glowing orb when the moon covers it. And looking directly at the sun—even briefly—can damage a spot in the retina called the fovea, which ensures clear central vision. This leads to a condition called solar retinopathy.

You won’t initially feel any pain if your eyes were damaged, as our retinas don’t have  pain receptors. But according to Live Science, symptoms of solar retinopathy can arise within hours (typically around 12 hours after sun exposure), and can include blurred or distorted vision, light sensitivity, a blind spot in one or both eyes, or changes in the way you see color (a condition called chromatopsia).

These symptoms can improve over several months to a year, but some people may experience lingering problems, like a small blind spot in their field of vision. Others may suffer permanent damage.

That said, if you only looked at the sun for a moment, you’re probably fine. “If you look at it for a second or two, nothing will happen," Jacob Chung, chief of ophthalmology at New Jersey's Englewood Hospital, told USA TODAY. "Five seconds, I'm not sure, but 10 seconds is probably too long, and 20 seconds is definitely too long."

However, if you did gaze at the sun for too long and you believe you may have damaged your eyes, get a professional opinion, stat. “Seeing an optometrist is faster than getting to see an ophthalmologist,” Ralph Chou, a professor emeritus of optometry and vision science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, told NPR. “If there is damage, the optometrist would refer the individual to the ophthalmologist for further assessment and management in any case.”

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