Welder’s Burn Demystified

A welder’s burn is basically a sunburn to the cornea. The cornea is one of the few parts of the eye that tries to absorb all of the UV light that the eye gets exposed to. When there is too much of it then you get an extremely red and painful eye. Depending on the level of burn will depend on the severity of the pain.

However, your cornea will repair itself to a certain extent, but long term problems can happen from repeated corneal flash burns.

Symptoms of Welder’s Burns

The symptoms of flash burns are similar to that of a sunburn on your skin:

  • pain that may be slightly irritating to extremely painful, usually starting a few hours after the incident
  • foreign body sensation or feeling like something is in the eye
  • bloodshot eyes
  • watery eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • blurred vision

What Causes a Flash Burn

To much UV light is what causes the flash burn. That could be from a welding torch, tanning bed, reflection off snow or water, or direct sunlight.

How is a Flash Burn Diagnosed

A flash burn is typically diagnosed by an Optometrist based on the finding of some disruption to your cornea and a history of one of the above causes.

How is Welder’s Burn Treated

So, just like a sunburn you want to keep the tissue moist and cool to help with healing and it will take a little time. Artificial tears work kind of like lotion for the eyes and will help with the healing process. If the burn is extremely bad an Eye Doctor may prescribe some steroid eye drops to speed the recovery along.

Also, Vitamin C consumption will help with the healing process as well by being utilized in the regeneration of the tissue.

What to Look for in the Eye Drops

General suggestions for using eye drops include: 

  • Put the eye drops in the fridge to help with the cooling
  • Pick a preservative free eye drop
  • Don’t use a “get the red out” drop

What NOT to Do After a Welder’s Burn

So, these are all things I have had patients tell me they were told by their buddy to do. This is a list of things NOT to do;

  • Do NOT put a potato on the eye
    • a potato is starch and starch is bacteria food. All this does is increase the risk of an infection
  • Do NOT put cow’s milk in the eye
    • there is bacteria in the milk and we don’t want to shove bacteria into the eye
  • Do NOT stare at an LED light
    • this will just expose the eye to more UV

Prevention of Flash Burn

Therefore, trying to not get a flash burn is all about not being exposed to UV light. Where a welders hood when welding and pay attention to the people next to you. If you are going to the lake or the ski slopes then wear sunglasses. Same goes for in the tanning bed. There is a reason they give those eye shields to everyone.

Long Term Damage From Flash Burn

Long term damage can and does occur with repeated welder’s burns, but it doesn’t happen right away. The endothelium of the cornea loses cells every time we get a flash burn and we never get those cells back. We also lose those cells with age. These cells keep the cornea from being swollen. Lastly, what will happen is later in life you have to be on drops to do the job of these damaged and lost cells or your cornea will be swollen giving blurry vision.

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