- Welders eye (arc eye) is caused by exposure to UV light from welding without proper eye protection. It can be extremely painful.
- Prevention is key – always use a welding helmet with the proper shade lens. Autodarkening lenses provide the best protection.
- If you do get welders eye, treatment focuses on pain relief, lubricating eye drops, antibiotics if needed, and rest. Most cases resolve in 1-2 days.
- See an eye doctor right away if pain gets worse, vision is blurry, you see flashes of light, etc as these can indicate a more serious injury.
A Quick Answer for you
The best way to treat welders eye is to use lubricating eye drops to soothe the eye, oral pain relievers like ibuprofen, cold compresses, and allowing the eye to rest. Most cases resolve in 1-2 days but see a doctor if symptoms persist or get worse. Prevention is key – always wear proper eye protection when welding.
Welding is an extremely useful skill for metalworkers, manufacturers, artists, and hobbyists. However, it does come with certain safety risks. One of the most common welding injuries is arc eye, also known as flash burn or welders eye.
This painful condition happens when the unprotected eye is exposed to the ultraviolet light emitted by a welding arc. Even a brief exposure can cause inflammation and damage on the surface of the eye.
While extremely uncomfortable, welders eye will usually resolve on its own within a couple days if properly cared for. But it’s still vital to understand how to treat it effectively for relief, know when to see a doctor, and how to prevent it in the first place through proper eye safety.
What Causes Welders Eye and How Does It Happen?
Welders eye occurs when the cornea, the clear outer layer protecting the front of the eye, is burned by ultraviolet light from a welding arc.
The cornea focuses light onto the back of the eye similarly to the lens of a camera. But it can be damaged by excessive UV exposure, just like skin can get sunburned. The medical name for this is photokeratitis.
During welding, an electrical arc is generated between the base metal and the electrode. This arc can reach temperatures upwards of 5,500° F! This puts out a massive amount of bright light across the UV spectrum, from UV-A to UV-C.
Even brief, direct exposure to UV wavelengths from the welding arc can cause a burn on the surface of the cornea.
The bright UV light from the welding arc can burn the cornea if eye protection isn’t used
While pain and other symptoms may take a few hours to manifest, the damage occurs instantly. This is why it’s so important to always have proper eye protection when looking at a welding arc.
Symptoms of Welders Flash Eye
If you’ve been exposed to welding flash without eye protection, you’ll begin to feel symptoms 2 to 12 hours later. These include:
- Pain in the affected eye, ranging from mild sensitivity to severe pain
- Feeling like you have sand or grit in your eye
- Excess tearing or watering eyes
- Redness in the eyes
- Blurred vision
- Headache around the affected eye
- Sensitivity to light
Both eyes are usually affected, though pain and symptoms may be worse in one eye. The severity depends on factors like how close you were to the arc and length of exposure.
Dangers and Risks of Untreated Welders Eye
While welders flash will usually heal on its own with proper care, it’s still essential to take it seriously. If left untreated, severe cases can lead to:
- Corneal scarring and permanent vision damage
- Corneal ulcer – open sore that can cause infections
- Chronic dry eyes or light sensitivity
- Increased risk of eye problems like cataracts
Seeking prompt treatment will provide relief and help avoid any lasting effects on your vision.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases you can treat welder’s flash at home with rest, lubricating drops, cool compresses, and OTC pain medication. Symptoms should improve within 1-2 days.
However, you should make an urgent appointment with an ophthalmologist or eye doctor if you experience:
- Increasing pain in the eye
- Vision getting worse or remaining blurry
- Eye pain with movement
- Spots, flashes or floaters in your vision
- Eye redness combined with vision changes
These can indicate a more serious eye injury, infection or corneal damage beyond a simple flash burn. It’s important to get prompt medical evaluation and treatment to prevent permanent vision impairment.
How to Treat Welders Eye at Home
For mild to moderate cases of welders flash, you can take care of it yourself at home using the following methods for relief:
1. Use Lubricating Eye Drops
Lubricating eye drops are one of the most helpful treatments for soothing welder’s eye. They lubricate and hydrate the irritated cornea surface.
Look for preservative-free drops that contain ingredients like polyethylene glycol or propylene glycol. These help coat the eye in a protective layer of moisture.
I recommend using preservative free Rohto Cool Eye Drops. Just a couple drops in each affected eye provides long lasting cooling relief.
Rohto Cool Eye Drops can provide soothing relief for welder’s flash eye.
Use the drops as needed, up to 4 times per day. This keeps the eyes hydrated and comfortable while the cornea heals.
Pro Tip: Remove contact lenses before using any eye drops to allow the medication to reach the surface of your eye.
2. Take Oral Pain Medication
An over the counter oral pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce eye pain and inflammation.
Follow dosage instructions on the bottle. This will make you more comfortable while resting the eyes.
3. Use a Cold Compress
Applying a cold compress can relieve pain and swelling. It constricts blood vessels to reduce inflammation.
Simply place a clean washcloth under cool running water, wring out excess moisture, and apply gently over your closed eyelid for 10-15 minutes as needed for relief. You can repeat this 3-4 times per day.
A cold compress can provide soothing relief for inflamed eyes.
4. Rest Your Eyes
It’s important to give your eyes a break while recovering from flash burn. Keep them closed as much as possible and avoid screens or reading. Wear sunglasses if you must go outside.
Resting your eyes helps prevent further irritation while the damaged corneal tissue mends itself.
5. Don’t Rub Your Eyes
Rubbing will only further aggravate the inflamed cornea. Avoid touching or rubbing the eyes to allow the fastest healing.
When to Expect Symptom Relief
With proper home treatment, your welder’s eye symptoms should start improving within 24 hours and fully resolve within 1-2 days.
However, if pain and light sensitivity have not gotten better after 2 days, it’s best to make an appointment to see your eye doctor. You may need prescription antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection.
How to Prevent Welders Eye
The best way to avoid welder’s flash eye injuries is prevention through proper eye protection when welding.
Use a Welding Helmet
A specialized welding helmet with a filtered lens is essential eye protection. This shields your eyes from the harmful UV light that can burn the cornea.
Look for a helmet with an auto-darkening lens. This automatically switches from light to dark when an arc is detected, saving your eyes before you even react.
An auto-darkening welding helmet provides crucial eye protection from UV light.
Make sure the filter is rated at least Shade #10 or higher. This blocks enough UV/IR radiation for typical welding applications.
Always inspect the lens for damage before use. Replace if it gets cracked or stops auto-darkening properly.
Don’t Look at the Arc
Even with a proper helmet, avoid looking directly at the welding arc itself whenever possible. Keep your head positioned so you are looking at your weld zone instead.
Even brief direct glancing at the arc can cause eye damage. Make it a habit to keep your focus on the weld joint.
Pro Tip: If you need to stop welding and peek at the arc for any reason, flip your helmet up first to protect your eyes.
Add Secondary Protection
For added protection, you can wear UV filtering safety glasses or goggles underneath your welding helmet.
This provides an extra barrier in case your helmet lens gets flipped up accidentally with an active arc. It also protects your eyes from UV light leakage around the edges of the helmet.
Provide Bystander Protection
Anyone else in the welding area needs protection too. Use welding screens or curtains to block UV light and prevent flash exposure for passersby or helpers.
Provide safety glasses for observers so they don’t try peeking at the bright arcs. Never weld in public areas without proper eye shielding for yourself and others.
Home Remedies for Soothing Relief
If you prefer to go the natural route, there are also some home remedies that can provide soothing relief:
- Cold milk compress – Helps reduce inflammation. Dip clean cloth in cold milk and apply to closed eye.
- Cucumber slices – Naturally cooling. Refrigerate cucumber slices first to maximize relief.
- Teabags – Green or black tea contains tannins that can help reduce eye puffiness and irritation.
- Rose water – Anti-inflammatory. Use cotton pad soaked in rose water as a compress.
Always make sure to clean and sanitize any ingredients before application around eyes. Don’t use any home remedy that increases irritation.
Signs Your Eye Is Healing Properly
Here are some good signs that indicate your welder’s eye is resolving normally:
- Sharp pains fade to mild discomfort
- Redness and bloodshot eyes improving
- Vision steadily getting clearer
- Eye watering less frequently
- Growing tolerance to indoor light
- Corneal surface feels less gritty or irritated
While symptoms may fluctuate a bit at first, you should see general improvement each day. Return to your eye doctor if healing stalls or reverses.
When Can You Weld Again After Arc Eye?
It’s recommended to avoid any welding for at least 2-3 days after a flash eye burn to allow complete recovery. This ensures the cornea heals fully so it can properly protect your eyes again.
Double check that your helmet is in good shape before returning to prevent a repeated injury. Consider adding supplemental safety glasses as well for extra protection.
Ease back into welding starting with short sessions to confirm your eyes can handle the light exposure once again. Stop immediately if you feel any eye pain or irritation, and follow up with your doctor.
Long Term Effects of Welders Eye
For most patients, there are no long term effects from a single welder’s flash incident if properly treated.
The cornea is remarkably resilient and able to regenerate itself following mild surface injury. Vision typically returns to normal within a few days as the superficial damage heals.
However, severe or repeated flash burns without protection can potentially lead to lasting eye problems like:
- Corneal scarring
- Permanently hazy vision
- Increased glare sensitivity
- Recurrent corneal erosion syndrome
- Higher risk of cataracts or macular degeneration later in life
Following doctor recommendations and using proper eye protection when welding helps minimize the chances of permanent damage. Get regular eye exams to monitor your vision closely if you weld frequently.
Welders eye is a common occupational hazard for metal workers that occurs when the unprotected eye is burned by the intense UV light from a welding arc. While extremely painful, it will usually heal fully within a day or two if properly treated at home.
Use plenty of lubricating eye drops, take oral pain meds, apply cold compresses, and rest the eyes as much as possible. Avoid rubbing the eyes as this can slow healing.
See an optometrist or ophthalmologist promptly if you have any concerns like worsening pain, blurred or double vision, discharge, or light flashes. This could indicate a serious injury requiring medication.
Most importantly, always use proper eye protection like a shade 10 welding helmet when working around arcs to prevent flash burn in the first place. Supervise nearby observers so they are shielded from UV exposure as well.
With proper safety practices, quick home treatment, and careful follow-up, you can stay productive with your welding work while keeping your eyes healthy for the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take for welders flash burn to heal?
With proper at-home treatment, welders eye usually heals fully in 1-2 days. Symptoms like pain and light sensitivity should steadily improve each day. See an eye doctor if your vision is still blurred or you have any other concerns after 2 days.
Can you go blind from arc eye?
Permanent blindness is very rare if welder’s flash is treated promptly. However, severe cases left untreated can potentially cause vision damage from corneal scarring. Seek medical care immediately if you experience any vision changes, increasing pain, discharge, or light flashes as these may indicate a serious eye injury.
Should you see a doctor for welders flash?
You can typically treat mild welder’s eye at home. But make an urgent appointment with an ophthalmologist if pain worsens, vision stays blurry, or you have any other eye problems like discharge, headaches, light flashes, etc. These could signal a corneal infection or injury needing medicine.
Can you put eye drops in after welding?
Yes, lubricating eye drops are recommended to help soothe eye pain and irritation caused by welder’s flash burn. Use preservative-free drops up to 4x daily after welding to keep the cornea surface moist and promote healing. Just avoid rubbing the eye area.
How can you tell if your eyes are burned from welding?
If you experience symptoms like eye pain, watery eyes, light sensitivity, gritty feeling, blurred vision, and/or redness a few hours after welding, you likely have welder’s flash burn. Protect eyes and rest them while using lubricating drops and cold compresses to help improve symptoms in 1-2 days.
What shade lens do you need for welding?
You need at minimum a #10 shade filter lens to safely view welding arcs. #12-14 are ideal for prolonged welding. Auto-darkening lenses that react to arcs are highly recommended for protection. Inspect your helmet regularly and replace lenses that are damaged, pitted, or slow to darken.
Can you wear contacts while welding?
It’s not recommended. Welding helmet lenses darken UV light but not IR, which contacts can still focus onto your eye. Welding also produces fumes that can irritate contacts. Consider switching to OSHA-approved prescription safety glasses under your helmet instead.
How close can you get to a welder’s arc safely?
There is no truly “safe” distance when looking directly at a welding arc without protection. UV radiation can damage eyes from any range. Always use a quality helmet, and position yourself to avoid gazing at arcs. Use welding curtains to protect others nearby.
Should you put water in your eyes after welding?
Do not rinse eyes with water after welding, as this can worsen irritation and damage. Flushing will not help an arc eye burn caused by UV light. Use proper lubricating eye drops and allow the eyes to rest instead. Only use water if you get debris or foreign material in the eye that needs rinsing out.