One of the worse things you can ever experience as a welder is burning your eyes. This recently happened to me and it was extremely painful.
To get an idea of what this feels like if you’ve ever gotten even just one spec of dust in your eyes you know how annoying that can be. But flash-burned eyes feel like someone just dumped hot sand in your eyes.
So how do you treat a welder’s eye? In most cases, a welder’s eye usually lasts one night but in serious cases, it can last a few days. You may want to seek medical attention or talk to your doctor. In most cases, a cold rag and eye drops will curb the pain enough till your eyes heal.
Overall this is one of the most common problems that welders face when it comes to their safety is welder’s eye or welder flash burn. This is also known as arc eye. This guide will address what this problem is and how you can prevent it, or treat it if it happens to you.
What is welding flash burn?
A flash burn is when your cornea gets inflamed. It is very painful because it pertains to the clear layer of tissue that covers the front of your eye. Flash burns occur when you end up exposing your eye to ultraviolet (UV) light in all its brightness.
Any type of UV light can cause this flash burn, but the most common source is welding torches. This is why the flash burn is frequently referred to as welders flash or arc eye.
These burns are about the same experience as getting a sunburn on your eye instead of your skin. It can even affect both eyes. The good news is that your cornea is self-repairing, and will heal within a couple of days. Usually, it will not even leave a scar.
If you do not treat the flash burn, it could lead to an infection that could cause vision loss, so it is very important to know how to take care of yourself and recognize the symptoms before it is too late.
These flash burns can affect both if your eyes at once. Make sure to treat them quickly to avoid vision loss and cataracts. Your cornea should be able to repair itself within 2 days’ time as long as you take the right preventative and protective healing measures and allow your eyes to rest.
The cornea covers your iris and focuses light onto your retina. It also protects the deeper structures of your eye. Essentially, the cornea is like the windshield of the eye. The surface consists of cells that are similar to those found in the skin despite being clear in color.
How can you flash burn your eyes?
You can get a flash burn after you are exposed to UV light. Some of the different ways to get this type of burn are from welding torches, direct sunlight, some lamps (like halogen bulbs or photographers’ flood lamps), sun lamps in tanning salons, or the reflection of the sun off of snow or water.
Symptoms of flash burn can include but are not limited to:
- Feeling like sand, dirt, or dust is stuck in your eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Mild to severe pain that begins a couple of hours after welding
- Bloodshot eyes
- Blurred vision
- Watery eyes
In order to diagnose flash burns, you may need an eye exam.
This could include the doctor using anesthetic drops to numb your eyes while you get examined, inspecting the area and eye for damage, and an orange dye test that will show any damage that has occurred, which can be seen when using a blue lamp that will contrast with the orange dye.
This dye will wash away your tears without causing any harm to your eyes.
How to Prevent Welding Burns to the Eyes
The best offense is a good defense. You should always practice all of the recommended safety procedures to avoid and prevent welders’ eye and flash burns.
No matter what protective gear you use, you should avoid looking directly into the light of your arc as much as possible. Focus on your weld surface instead.
If you wear coated safety goggles this can help protect your cornea from the UV light. We recommend a full welder’s mask. Using an auto-darkening helmet will eliminate your risk of welder’s eye almost entirely. Make sure any helmets and goggles completely cover your eyes.
Side Note: Never use a regular set of sunglasses to weld with. Welding requires at least a shade 10 lens in order to look at your welds. You can check out my complete article on welding lenses here.
These should protect your eyes from UVA and UVB radiation. Just make sure you check the label before buying sunglasses to be sure they can offer that protection.
How to Treat Welders Eye
If you suffer from this problem and need to know how to treat welding burns to the eyes, then we have a great answer.
#1 Over-the-Counter Eye Drops
I love Rohto Cooling Eye Drops All-In-One eye drops. These drops give a soothing and cool feeling in your eye when you apply them, and treat 8 different symptoms. I use them any time we end up with welders flash burnt eyes.
One of the reasons we recommend keeping Rphto Cooling Eye Drops on hand in case of emergencies is because they are very affordable and extremely effective. These will relieve the feeling of grit in your eye while also reducing any watering and burning or irritation from your eyes.
The drop dosage works for up to 8 hours without needing reapplication. It is preservative-free, so you are not putting terrible materials that could aggravate your condition in your eyes.
The active ingredient in these eye drops is Hypromellose, which is a lubricant. It also uses Tetrahydrozoline HCl, a redness reliever, and zinc sulfate, an astringent.
Inactive ingredients include boric acid, edetate disodium, menthol, polysorbate-80, purified water, and sodium borate. Just remember to remove your contacts before applying these drops.
These are strong eye drops that will be quite a minty feeling because their purpose is to cool and soothe your eye after a burn. If you are not used to handling this type of sensation, these drops may be painful or uncomfortable to use.
Once the mint wears off, they offer a great soothing feeling to your eye. Just use your best judgment when it comes to balancing the pain with relief.
Side Note: If you wear contact lenses, you should immediately remove them to allow your corneas to rest and begin the healing process. If you experience light sensitivity, then consider wearing sunglasses so your eyes can rest.
Should the symptoms continue without getting better, you should go see your eye doctor for their recommended care.
Welder flash should be easy to cure with the right measures, but welding can be dangerous so it is always best to check out unusual or long-lasting problems with a doctor to prevent more serious harm.
Dilating drops, like the ones we recommend, will relax your eye muscles and allow you to rest and heal without pain. Your pupils will be dilated for a few hours to a few days with this method.
#2 Talk to Your Doctor
You may end up needing to cover your eye with a padded dressing to allow it to rest and heal. If you do, then do not drive. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your eyes become infected. This will usually be paired with an anti-inflammatory eye drop.
If you end up with a blurry vision that wasn’t caused by eye drops, a worsening pain, a worsening glare, or any other unusual symptoms then you need to seek medical help immediately.
If you use these eye drops, be sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes. Place your finger on your cheek and pull down your lower eyelid.
Then, tilt your head backward so you can drop the liquid behind your lower eyelid. If you are using an ointment, then smear a small amount right along the inside of your lower eyelid without letting the nozzle touch your eye. Continue using these treatments until your eye has healed.
Review your symptoms in a day or 2 and ensure that your eyes are healing properly. Infections will take time to show up, and you may need an ophthalmologist’s help if the eye drops and ointment don’t fix your flash burn within a couple of days’ time.
You should seek immediate medical care if you experience pain that continually gets worse, blurry vision, or changes in your vision.
If you have these symptoms or flashing spots of light and pain with eye movement, and can’t get to your eye specialist, then you should go to an emergency room at a hospital for evaluation.
The emergency room physician or ophthalmologist will make their diagnoses after talking over your history, examining your eyes, and discussing the exposure your eye may have had during welding.
They will check your eyelids, pupils, vision, and the back of your eyes. They will use specialized equipment to examine the surface of your eyes.
A numbing eyedrop like the one we recommend above may be used to ease the examination process. A painless dye called fluorescein may also be used. This will temporarily stain your eye yellow or orange but will go away with normal tear ducts after a few minutes.
A damaged cornea will confirm their diagnosis of radiation eye burns or corneal flash burns. From there, they will prescribe a certain method of treatment and recommend a follow-up examination in a couple of days’ time.
Prescribed Eye Drops
Some of the treatments they recommend may include cooling eyedrops, like the ones we recommend. They may also prescribe topical antibiotic eye drops or ointments that are made specifically for the eyes to prevent your damaged cornea from becoming infected.
Steroid eye drops may also be recommended if there is a case of excessive inflammation. These will prevent scars from forming.
They may also recommend a short-term drug that will paralyze the ciliary muscles in your eye. This will dilate your pupil and fix it in place. This drug allows your eye muscles to rest, and will also help to decrease eye pain and eye muscle spasms so your cornea can heal.
Oral medication can also be taken for pain relief. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen, Motrin, and Advil can be taken. So can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen sodium and Aleve.
Other pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used as well. It is very rare that welders’ eyes will need stronger pain medications.
Never use topical anesthetics for your eye. These can slow down the process of your cornea’s healing itself and cause ulcers to form in your eyes.
Following up 48 hours after your initial visit for a re-evaluation of your eyes will help ensure that your cornea is healing properly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other common questions that are asked when people want to know about welder’s flash eye burns.
These are the biggest concerns and fears that they possess after being exposed to arc flash. Hopefully, you will find any additional answers you seek here.
Can you go blind from welder flash?
It is possible to go blind from welder’s flash, but it is unlikely to occur without prolonged exposure to the UV light source. The longer the duration of your exposure, the worse your symptoms and pain will be.
Most injuries from welding are preventable. In fact, 95 percent of arc injuries among welding professionals only see the welder take a week off work, and half of them return within 2 days!
Most people who get welders flash will realize it after a couple of hours. Because they are not welding for that long, the most they will usually experience is watery eyes, sensitivity to light, mild pressure or intense pain in their eyes, red eyes and membranes, feeling like there is sand or dush in their eye, or tearing in the eye and membrane.
However, prolonged exposure to UV light can also lead to more serious issues. Along with the length of exposure, the distance and angle of penetration also affect the severity. It is possible that you can end up with cataracts, which could, in turn, lead to a loss of vision or blindness.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, the best way to avoid blindness is by seeking medical care. There may be additional problems contributing to your pain, and you may need antibiotics to prevent infections.
When you are diagnosed with welder flash burn, your doctor can treat you and allow you to rest and recover from home. You need to get a review 2 days after this begins to make sure that you are healing properly.
Following this process should prevent any blindness. Your cornea should repair itself within a couple of days provided you are treated quickly or taking proper care of your eyes at home.
The outlook for welder’s eye is usually very bright (no pun intended). The cornea is able to rapidly repair itself. In most cases, it will heal within 2 days without leaving any scars.
In fact, this is often a process that will only take a single day as long as you follow all the right instructions to protect your eyes against further damage and allow them the time and space to rest and heal.
Just make sure you monitor the situation because not all of the potential complications involved with arc eye and welder flash burn will show up right away.
How close do you have to be to get welders flash burn?
It can be very difficult to determine a safe distance for preventing welder’s eye. The intensity and duration of the radiation, as well as the angle of penetration, all affect safety requirements and the likelihood of injury.
In fact, you can get an arc eye without even being the one welding if you’re too close to the area. This is why you need to observe all safety precautions.
The intensity of the radiation usually depends on the distance from the welding arc. If you are only a short distance from the arc, then even a short period of exposure to the arc’s flash can cause your eye to be injured. This is why wearing protection is necessary for the welder and anyone within 10 meters of the arc.
The intensity of the radiation will decrease as you move farther away from the source, but actively looking at the flash from any distance is still a bad idea because it can easily result in a flash burn.
Remember: This is similar to looking directly into the sun’s light, and Earth is significantly far away from the sun but direct eye contact will yield the same arc eye problem.
As a good general guideline, a rule of thumb that ophthalmologists recommend is to remain 60 to 100 feet away from the welding arc.
There is an exponential decrease in danger the farther you get from the arc itself. At 50 feet, the exposure would be almost fully mitigated as long as you do not look directly at the arc.
Despite this guideline, sources continue to disagree. The US Army carried out several trials that proposed any number of distances between 3 and 20 meters and experimented with exposure times of up to 10 minutes for MMA, (SMA), MAG (GMA), and FCAW in order to keep the exposure to the UV light below the US allowable daily threshold limit value.
Other sources continue to state that any and all radiation created from a welding arc has the potential to be hazardous to the eyes, and therefore there can be no officially designated safety limit declared.
Therefore, the consensus remains that there is not safe distance that will guarantee that you do not end up with welders flash burn or dangerous exposure to the arc’s UV light.
The best current advice is to screen off your welding space using welding curtains as a measure to completely protect workers or civilians and members of the public who are not properly equipped with adequate eye safety protection from the effects of the UV radiation that results from welding arcs.
How long does it take for welders’ flash to set in?
Welders flash will usually show up after a couple of hours. Because they do not show up immediately, it may be too late by the time you realize that you have come down with an arc eye. This is why it is extremely important to protect yourself while you are welding.
Any time from 3 hours after exposure to up to 12 hours after exposure, you may begin to notice symptoms of flash burn. These symptoms may include excessive tearing, blurry vision, feeling like dust or sand is stuck in your eye, bloodshot eyes, and mild to severe pain.
Quick Tip: I find once I know that my eyes are burnt its best to just keep them closed. Opening and closing your eyes will only irritate your eyes more.
In most cases, both eyes will feel these symptoms, though they are often worse in one eye than another. This is how you can differentiate arc burn from corneal abrasion, which usually only occurs in one eye.
Of the several times that I’ve burnt my eyes welding I usually start to feel its effects after I go to bed and way up at 1 or 2 am. It’s usually at this point I put more eye drops in and get a cold rag to put on my eyes.
If I don’t like medications or drugs, are there any natural remedies to treat the welder’s eye?
A lot of people want to care for their eyes at home, without seeing medical care or buying drugs. If this sounds like you, then there may still be some options for you.
A drop of milk can work wonders. In case you have not heard of using milk to treat skin burns, it has been used for years as a soothing remedy. It can work well for the arc eye, too.
The natural enzymes contained in the milk can treat your itchy eyes while soothing the surface and reducing inflammation. Boil the milk first then allow it to cool to room temperature. Dip a cotton ball in the cool milk and gently touch it to the affected eye. After 3 minutes, gently rinse the eye.
Teabags may also help. Many teas contain antioxidants, which can work to soothe inflammation and counteract pain. It can have the added benefit of reducing puffy eyes and dark circles, too!
Similar to teabags, cucumbers are also a great option. It has huge cooling power and works as a great lubricant due to the high volume of water
. This can deeply moisturize your burn area and soothe any itchiness and dryness while rehydrating your flash burn. Take two thick slices, refrigerate for a few minutes, then put them on your eyes!
Rosewater can also help treat irritation caused by welders flash. The cooling sensation and hydration can reduce your itching and swelling. Soak a cotton ball in rose water then place it over your affected eye and leave it there for 10 minutes.
For an earthier option, try potatoes! No, I am not joking. Surprisingly enough, potatoes work wonders when it comes to treating welder’s flash.
They reduce inflammation and itching around the eye. Grate the potatoes and place the grated potato on a wet cloth. Put the wrapper in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes, then place the wrapper on your eyes. Keep it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
#6 Aloe Vera
Finally, aloe vera can help your eyes in much the same way it relieves sunburns on your skin. This plant stores a ton of water in its leaves.
It contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it ideal for use because it can reduce pain while also preventing any infections that may arise.
Mix 2 tablespoons of fresh aloe vera gel into cold water and soak some cotton rounds in the mixture. Then, placed the soaked cotton on your affected eyes for 10 minutes.
Welders eye, also known as flash burn and arc eye, can occur for anyone who gets too close to the arc flash of a welder’s ultraviolet light without wearing the proper protection.
Direct exposure for even short periods of time can damage your cornea, causing infection and inflammation.
It will take a couple of hours to set in, so it can often be difficult to know until too late that you are suffering from arc eye.
Once you have discovered this, thanks to symptoms like eye pain, watering, and blurring, you need to get some cooling drops and allow your eyes to rest for a couple of days.
After the time of rest and eye drops, consult your ophthalmologist. Welders flash should heal itself in 48 hours, so if your cornea hasn’t healed then you may need antibiotics and additional treatment.
Only a professional can diagnose this. It is always best to be prepared. Make sure you observe all of your proper safety precautions when welding, including wearing the appropriate helmet and eye shields. We recommend having some of the Rohto Cooling Eye Drops on hand in case of emergencies!