Complete Guide to Flash Burns (Welder's Flash)

Corneal flash burns occur as a result of direct exposure to ultraviolet rays and require immediate care from your eye doctor.

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Corneal Flash Burns

From 2010 to 2019, approximately 109,127 welding-related eye injuries were reported in the United States. A significant majority of these cases involved men (98.2%) and primarily affected those in the 10-49 age group (83.8%). Flash burns caused by UV radiation were the most common type of injury, accounting for 62.1% of the cases.

Flash burns happen when there is direct exposure to the bright ultraviolet (UV) rays which harm the cornea, the clear part that covers the front surface of the eye. The most common cause of flash burns are welding torches in which case it’s sometimes known as welder’s flash, however it can easily occur from any type of UV light as well. Imagine a sunburn, only this time it is not on the skin, but rather your eyes. This is a flash burn and it can impact both the eyes. If your cornea is damaged, it carries the ability to heal by itself in a couple of days with the possibility of avoiding scarring, but that’s only if you get the proper care from a professional. If you do not get immediate treatment for a flash burn, there could be serious complications that can cause vision loss. 

If you’ve been exposed to strong ultraviolet rays and you have any suspicion that this caused injury to your cornea, please schedule an eye exam with your eye doctor right away. In case your eye doctor is not available, you should immediately visit the emergency room at your nearest hospital.

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Is a Flash a Burn an Eye Emergency? When Should I see an Eye Doctor?

Yes, a corneal flash burn, also known as welder's flash or arc eye, is considered an eye emergency that requires immediate medical attention. This condition can cause significant discomfort and pose the risk of complications, including infection or lasting vision problems if left untreated. You should see an eye doctor:

  • Immediate Symptoms: If you experience symptoms like severe eye pain, redness, tearing, or vision changes shortly after exposure to intense UV light, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.
  • Worsening Symptoms: Even if the initial symptoms are mild, but they worsen over time, it's a signal that you need prompt medical attention.
  • No Improvement: If you've used initial first aid measures like a cold compress and experience no relief, consult an eye doctor immediately.
  • Exposure without Protection: If you know you've been exposed to intense UV light without adequate eye protection, it's better to consult an eye care professional for a preemptive examination, even if symptoms have not yet appeared.
  • Other Concerns: If you experience other issues like difficulty opening the eye, extreme light sensitivity, or any other unusual symptoms, it's advisable to consult an eye doctor right away.
Are Home Remedies Effective for Flash Burns?

Are Home Remedies Effective for Flash Burns?

When it comes to treating flash burns or welder's flash, relying solely on home remedies is not advised. These types of eye injuries are a serious matter that require prompt professional medical evaluation and treatment. The ultraviolet light exposure can lead to corneal damage, and without proper medical intervention, complications like infection or long-term vision problems could arise.

Home remedies like cold compresses or using tea bags may offer temporary relief from the symptoms, but they won't address the underlying issue. In some cases, using home remedies may even exacerbate the problem or introduce infection. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, medical treatment often involves antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection and anti-inflammatory medication to control pain and swelling. You may also be advised to wear a patch or use lubricating eye drops.

If you suspect you have a flash burn, consult an eye care professional immediately for a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment plan. Only a qualified eye doctor can provide the right diagnosis and medical treatment you'll need for a full recovery.

Treatment and Management of Corneal Flash Burns

Pain Management

Managing pain is often the first step in treating flash burns. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory eye drops or prescribed medication can help alleviate discomfort. Additionally, oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be recommended to help you manage the pain. Always consult your doctor for the most appropriate medication and dosage for your condition.


One of the primary concerns with flash burns is the risk of infection. To mitigate this risk, antibiotic eye drops are usually prescribed. These drops are generally administered multiple times a day and are essential to prevent bacterial infection during the healing process.

Eye Patches

Wearing an eye patch can minimize further irritation and light exposure, aiding in the healing process. An eye patch may be particularly useful in the initial stages, post-injury, to offer the eye a 'resting period' from any visual stress. Your eye doctor will provide guidance on how long you should wear the patch based on the severity of the injury.

Other Treatments

Other treatments may include lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, to alleviate dryness and irritation. Cold compresses may also be recommended to temporarily relieve symptoms like swelling. In severe cases, you may need more specialized treatments, and frequent follow-ups with your eye doctor will be necessary to monitor the healing process and adjust treatments as needed.

Diagnosing a Flash Burn

Diagnosing a Flash Burn

In order to make the correct diagnosis, your eye doctor will examine your eyes, take a history of your medical conditions and will ask you for details about the time and cause of the corneal flash burn. If you were exposed to ultraviolet radiation which caused damage to the cornea, the eye doctor would be able to make the right diagnosis immediately.

The eye doctor will check your eyelids, vision and the back part of your eye in order to understand the severity or extent of the damage or burn. Slit lamps are specifically designed to check the surface of your eyes so this tool will be very helpful in the diagnosis. The eye doctor may also give numbing eye drops to do a painless eye examination with a fluorescein dye that is applied to the cornea. This dye will temporarily stain the eye and make it look yellow just for a few minutes. The fluorescein allows the healthcare provider to clearly see the damage to the cornea when placing a blue filter on the eye which highlights the fluorescein.

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Symptoms of Flash Burns

Symptoms of Flash Burns

The signs of this condition can manifest within a few hours after exposure to intense UV light. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:

  • Eye Pain: One of the first symptoms you'll likely notice is a sharp or throbbing pain in your eyes. This can range from mild to severe.
  • Redness: Your eyes may appear red or bloodshot, signaling inflammation.
  • Tearing: Excessive tearing or watering of the eyes can be a symptom, making it difficult to keep your eyes open.
  • Light Sensitivity: A heightened sensitivity to light, including both natural and artificial sources, is common. This can make being outdoors or in brightly lit areas uncomfortable.
  • Blurred Vision: In some cases, you may experience temporary vision impairment like blurriness.
  • Foreign Body Sensation: It may feel like there's sand or some other foreign object in your eye, causing a gritty or scratchy feeling.
  • Swollen Eyelids: The eyelids can become puffy or swollen, adding to the overall discomfort.
  • Difficulty Looking at Bright Lights: You may find it challenging to look at any form of bright light, including computer screens or smartphones.

What Can I Do To Prevent Flash Burns?

Prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to protecting your eyes from flash burns or welder's flash. The key is to minimize exposure to intense UV light by taking certain precautions. Here are some important steps you can take:

  • Wear Proper Eye Protection: The most effective way to prevent flash burns is to use appropriate eye protection. For welders, this means wearing a welding helmet with a UV-protective lens. For others in different settings, safety goggles with side shields that filter out UV light can be useful.
  • Check Safety Gear: Before using your safety gear, inspect it to ensure it's in good condition. Scratched or damaged lenses can compromise the level of protection they offer.
  • UV-Blocking Screens: If you're working around intense UV light, install UV-blocking screens or shields to reduce the risk of exposure.
  • Proper Technique: If you're welding, make sure to follow recommended safety procedures and techniques to reduce the risk of direct exposure to UV light.
  • Warning Signs: Post clear warning signs in areas where there is a risk of UV light exposure. This will inform others to take necessary precautions.
  • Education: Make sure you, and those around you, are educated on the risks and symptoms of flash burns. Awareness is the first step towards prevention.
    • Avoid Direct Staring: Never look directly at a source of intense UV light. Even a quick glance can be enough to cause damage.
    • Frequent Breaks: If you're working for extended periods in an environment with potential UV exposure, take regular breaks to reduce the risk of eye strain and potential injury.
    • Consult Professional Guidelines: Always refer to occupational safety guidelines or consult with an eye care professional for specific preventive measures tailored to your work environment.

Taking these steps can go a long way in preventing flash burns. Always prioritize your eye safety to avoid the discomfort and potential complications that come with this condition.

Are Home Remedies Effective for Flash Burns?
Diagnosing a Flash Burn

Causes of Corneal Flash Burns

If your cornea is directly exposed to UV light without proper protection, it can easily be damaged. Some of the leading sources of UV light include:

  • The sun
  • Sunlamps that are typically seen in tanning salons
  • Photographer’s flood lamps
  • Nearby lightning strike
  • Halogen lamps
  • Direct sunlight in the eye
  • Watching solar eclipse
  • Reflection of the sun from water or off the snow
  • Welding torches

If you are not wearing the right kind of protective eyewear, the cornea could be damaged immediately. Wearing dark goggles or glasses can greatly reduce the risks of flash burns.

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Common Questions

This is another term which refers to the same phenomenon as a flash burn or welder’s flash. All of these names describe the effect that ultraviolet rays have on unprotected eyes. It is similar to getting a sunburn, but this occurs in the eyes and can cause pain and other symptoms. It is important to seek immediate care from an eye doctor in order to make sure that your eyes heal properly and to receive the proper treatment and guidance.
Be aware of the risks of your surroundings and the activities you are engaged in. If there is any chance of ultraviolet exposure that can harm your eyes, be vigilant to wear the proper protection. When you’re outside, do not look directly into the sun, be sure to wear sunglasses that block UV light and wear a hat with a wide brim. If you are involved in welding or activities that pose a similar threat to the eyes, wear goggles and the proper protection. The right protective gear can drastically reduce the risk of damage to your eyes due to ultraviolet rays.
Welding glasses and shields are a lot darker than typical sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses while welding is never a good idea, as you can severely damage your eyesight if you don't wear the right protection. It is not enough just to wear sunglasses when welding because welding generates too much intense heat and light.
Welder's flash, also known as arc eye or photokeratitis, typically causes symptoms like pain, redness, and a sensation of sand in the eyes. These symptoms usually develop within a few hours after exposure and can last for 1-2 days. However, the duration can vary depending on the intensity of exposure and individual susceptibility. If symptoms persist or worsen, it's important to consult an eye doctor for appropriate treatment to prevent further eye damage.
The development of welder's flash depends on several factors, including the duration of exposure to the welding arc, the intensity of the UV light, and the absence or inadequacy of eye protection. Even brief exposure without proper eye protection can cause welder's flash. It's important to use appropriate welding helmets or goggles to protect the eyes, as recommended by eye care professionals.

Using raw potatoes for welder's flash is a folk remedy without scientific backing. While the coolness of a potato slice may provide temporary relief, it doesn't treat the underlying UV damage to the cornea. For effective treatment and relief from symptoms like pain and irritation, it's crucial to seek advice from an eye doctor or optometrist rather than relying on home remedies.

Long-term exposure to intense UV light from welding without adequate eye protection can increase the risk of developing eye conditions that might lead to vision impairment. However, with proper safety measures like using appropriate welding helmets and regular eye check-ups, welders can significantly reduce the risk of eye damage and blindness. It's vital for welders to consult with an optometrist or an eye doctor for guidelines on protecting their eyesight.
Staring at welding without proper eye protection is extremely dangerous. The intense light and UV radiation from the welding arc can cause immediate and severe damage to the eyes, such as welder's flash and retinal burns. Repeated exposure without protection can lead to chronic eye conditions and potentially permanent vision loss. Always use appropriate protective eyewear and avoid direct exposure to welding arcs.
Complete Guide to Flash Burns (Welder's Flash)
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It is important to be aware of the danger that direct exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause to our eyes. It is strongly recommended to wear the proper protective gear to prevent flash burns from occurring in our eyes. If you have any cause of concern that you may have a flash burn, please see your eye doctor right away to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.

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