Welders’ eyes, also known by other names such as welders flash and arc eye are the result of the cornea being exposed to bright UV light. Generally speaking, most minor cases of welder’s eye last for one or two days and require cold padding, eye drops, and a lot of rest. More serious cases require more serious treatment. It can happen to anyone.
Whether you are new to welding or are an experienced veteran, welders’ eye is something you need to know about. Therefore, with that in mind, we are going to take an in-depth look at this all-too-common condition, discussing what it is, what causes it, and the various treatments you can use to get rid of it. We will also provide some insight into how you can prevent it.
What is Welders Eye?
We briefly touched upon this at the outset, but the cornea is the transparent window-like coating of tissue that covers the front of your eyeball. Welders’ eye, which is technically classed as a flash burn, occurs if your eyes are exposed to high levels of pure Ultraviolet light. Although in theory, any source of UV light can cause flash burns, the injury is most commonly associated with welding equipment, hence the name.
What are the Symptoms of Welders Eye?
The symptoms of flash burns or welders’ eyes are varied and can include the following, though it’s important to note this is not an exhaustive list:
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Bloodshot eyes
- Pain ranging from minor and irritating to severe in intensity
- Light sensitivity
- The sensation of having dust, dirt or sand trapped in your eyes
How Long Does It Take to Get Welders Eyes?
You may not always be aware that you are suffering from welders’ eyes until the symptoms start to properly manifest. This can often take anything between 3 and 12 hours after the injury occurred. As you may expect, the more serious the exposure to UV light you endure, the quicker the symptoms are likely to show.
When You Need to Get Medical Help and Care
While some instances of arc eye do not require much more than a wet cloth and maybe some eye drops, because the eyes are very susceptible to damage and disease it is vital that you have any changes in your vision, blurriness or increasing pain checked out by an ophthalmologist. If you are not able to see your local eye doctor or even a GP and the pain is unbearable or you have any of the more serious and prevailing symptoms, you need to go to the emergency department of your local hospital for a check-up.
How to Treat Welders Eye
There are several different ways you can treat welders’ eyes. You can either go to the doctor or hospital to receive full medical care and treatment or try one of the many great home remedies that exist. In the following section of our guide, we are going to look at both. First, we will discuss the various treatments the doctor might offer you and then follow that with at-home suggestions.
If you go to the doctor’s or hospital to treat what you believe is welders’ eye, the ophthalmologist or physician will need to run some tests and exams to confirm that the problem you have is definitely a flash burn. This will involve taking a record of your history, examining your eyes closed and then discussing whether you have been exposed to UV light recently and if so, when.
You are likely to experience the following:
- A full assessment of your vision, the back of your eyes and eyelids
- The doctor running the tests will use special equipment, normally a slit lamp, to look more closely at your eye’s surface.
- Application of numbing eye drops and a special dye called fluorescein to make it easier and more comfortable for the doctor to assess your eyes. The stain from the dye gives your eyes a temporary yellow color, that when blue light is shone on them, they can tell if any damage has occurred to your cornea.
If you have been exposed to ultraviolet light recently and have damaged cornea, you are definitely suffering from welders’ eye and the doctor can then proceed with treating it.
Medical Treatment for Welders Eye
Different types of medical treatment can be provided to treat welder’s eye, depending on the severity of the condition and its symptoms. For many, this may involve simply a prescription of pain control medication and a special eye patch. Sunglasses are often also recommended.
Different Types of Medication
In addition to pain medication, medicine that helps to dilate your pupils, and antibiotic medications can be used to treat welders’ eye. If necessary, a combination of some or all of these may be used.
Some common options include:
- Oral pain medication – this can come in the form of anti-inflammatories like Naproxen Sodium (Anaprox), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and other medication like Acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol). Only on rarer occasions may strongly pain agents are used.
- Drugs that paralyze the eye ciliary muscles – this helps by dilating and keeping your pupil in one place and provides relaxation and recuperation for all the muscles in your eyes and helps reduce any pain you may experience caused by spasms.
- Topical antibiotic ointment or eyedrops – these medications are made particularly for eyes and your eye doctor or physician may recommend them to help prevent an infection from developing on your affected cornea. You will find that some eye doctors use eyedrops with steroids to help reduce the chances of scarring occurring and settle any inflammation.
The one type of medication that should never be used on your eyes when you are suffering from welder’s flash burns is any kind of topical anesthetics as they slow the cornea’s healing and can cause the development of ulcers.
Welders Eye: Home Remedies
Now that we’ve covered the most common medical treatments for arc eye, it’s time to look at some of the various home remedies there are out there. Although these are not necessarily always going to be effective alternatives, they can help with the inflammation and pain side of things at the very least.
This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer and common sense, but it’s still worth noting. An ice pack is a great way to treat your welders’ eye if you are feeling a lot of pain or a burning sensation. It can offer the quick and effective relief you need for any inflammation your cornea is experiencing and helps to relax the nerves in the cornea too.
All you need to do is put an ice pack (or two if both eyes are affected) onto your eyes and leave them for around 5 minutes. Repeat this process until the feeling of burning subsides.
Face Cloths or Face Towels
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to help treat your welders’ eyes from the comfort of your own home. If you invest in 2 soft cloths (or face towels) and get them both wet with cold water. Similarly, to the ice pack treatment above, the cold water offers a cooling sensation for your eyes to alleviate the strain there are feeling and help them feel refreshed and relaxed.
Simply dip your cloths or towels into the bowl of cold water (iced water is best) and wring them out to remove unwanted excess water. Then place them over each eye (or the affected eye if it is just one) while you lie down and let them sit there for between 10 and 12 minutes. As above, repeat this two times a day or when necessary.
We’ve all seen the images of people placing cucumber slices on their eyes as an at-home beauty treatment. This can also be used as an ad-hock treatment for welders’ eyes. Cucumbers are excellent for this application as they contain high levels of minerals and vitamins, as well as having a high percentage of water too.
As if that wasn’t enough, they are also natural coolers and can help reduce the inflammation and redness you may have on the inside of your eyes.
Did we also mention how easy this treatment is? Cut off two thick slices from fresh and ripe cucumber and place them in your fridge for at least 10 minutes or so. Once they are suitably chilled, stick them onto your eyes and leave them to work their magic for around 10 to 15 minutes. You may have to repeat this process at least three times a day to get the best out of it.
Obviously, like all our other suggestions, this is just a recommendation, because if you need to use them more, you should use them more if you are still suffering from that burning sensation.
Although we are heading slowly off-piste with some of these suggestions, potatoes are still a relatively normal option. The reason potatoes make for a great alternative for treating all manner of wounds, including welders’ eye, is because of their anti-inflammatory properties.
You can use them in a similar way to cucumbers as eye patches to not only reduce the inflammation but also provide a refreshing cooling sensation and reduce the itchiness, irritation, and pain that comes with the condition.
Although there is a little bit more involved in this treatment, it is still relatively easy and does not include any hard to find items. Get two soft washcloths or face towels and a bowl of cold water. Now, grate a reasonably sized potato and then grate it.
Next, you need to take the washcloths and dip them into the water bowl and then squeeze out the excess water. Place a lump of the freshly grated potato into each washcloth and make sure it is secure.
Stick the washcloths into the fridge for at least 5 minutes and then place the washcloths on both eyes (or just the one affected, if it’s only one that is suffering from welders’ eye) and leave them for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this process again as many times a day as necessary, being sure to use new lumps of grated potato each time.
Okay, so this might seem a little funny, but trust us, tea bags are incredibly effective for fighting the symptoms of welder’s eye. Tea leaves are packed full of antioxidants and have highly active anti-inflammatory properties too, which all helps to reduce the inflammation and likewise the pain you are undoubtedly feeling.
This is also a very fast-acting option. Dip fresh tea bags into some hot water and then carefully squeeze them to get rid of the excess water. Give them time to cool down and then place them in your freezer for around 15 minutes.
Take them out and place them on both your eyes (or the one affected) and let them sit there for as long as you can bear it or at least until you feel the pain and discomfort subside somewhat. You can, as with the others, repeat this process as often as you like. Just remember to use a new teabag each time for the optimal effects.
Yes, that’s right, milk is a great remedy for welders’ eye. Why? It has high levels of potent and beneficial enzymes that are great for reducing inflammation and healing damaged tissues. It is completely safe to use on the inside of your eyes and can help heal and lubricate your corneal epithelial tissues. Much like the other at-home treatments for flash burns we listed here, milk can help give your burning and inflamed eyes a cooldown.
The best way to apply milk to your affected eye or eyes is by taking 2 clean cotton balls and dipping them in pasteurized milk. Squeeze the balls to get rid of excess liquid and then store them in the fridge for at least 5 minutes. Then take them off and put them on your eyes.
Another home remedy that provides a similar cooling effect is rose water that can help alleviate the pain and burning you may be feeling in your eyes as a result of welders’ eyes. As well as also alleviating the itching and inflammation that is the source of a lot of the pain and discomfort you feel as a result of this condition.
Although you can buy any rose water to suit your budget, you just need to make sure it does not contain any additives.
Take two clean cotton balls and dip them in some rose water, squeezing the liquid out of them. Then place one rose water-soaked cotton ball on each of your eyes (if they are both affected) and keep them there for at least 10 minutes.
Probably the strangest suggestion in this list of at-home treatments for welders’ eye, but many people have found it effective. The banana pulp contains high levels of Vitamin B12 which is particularly effective for helping tissue that has been damaged heal much faster. It can also alleviate any dryness you may be suffering from and help to ease your eyes and eyelids.
Start by peeling the banana and then mashing it up into a pulp and make sure there no large chunks left. Spoon or pour the banana pulp mixture into a clean bowl or container and store it in your fridge for between 5 and 10 minutes.
Now, take the pulp and apply it to both eyelids, or the one that is affected and keep it on there for around 5 minutes. Wipe your eyelids clean using a soft and wet cloth afterward.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can You Go Blind from Looking Arc Eye?
One of the questions we’ve seen come up time and time again related to welders’ arc is whether or not the condition can be serious enough to permanently blind you. Although exposure to excessive levels of ultraviolet light without any protection is not good or healthy for your eyes and you can suffer from temporary blindness, there is no evidence that Photokeratitis, the official medical term for welders’ eye, can cause permanent sight loss. Unless some other conditions or factors need to be taken into consideration too.
How to Prevent Arc Eye – Do Safety Glasses Protect from Welding Flash?
This is a fairly obvious question, but as the answer could mean the difference between avoiding the irritating, painful, and uncomfortable welders’ eye, it’s worth highlighting here. The best way to prevent arc eye is by taking the proper precautions and yes, safety glasses should be worn at all times while you are welding. Although any safety glasses are better than none at all, you should really invest in Shade 5 to benefit from the highest level of protection against UV light.
It’s not just the welder who needs to wear safety glasses or a welding helmet to protect their eyes from welder’s flash burn. Anyone close to the welding station who may catch a glimpse of the UV light from the welder should wear safety glasses too.
Why Can’t I See Through My Welding Helmet?
To close out the FAQ section of this post, we wanted to answer the popular question of “why can’t I see through my welding helmet?” It sounds like a nightmare scenario really, as it’s the last thing you really want when welding. Obviously, your welding eye gear or helmet must provide adequate protection against flash burns, but what you really want to avoid is having a helmet that is too dark that you can’t see through it.
Generally, you will find that most of the modern welding helmets and eye protection gear feature some kind of auto-darkening setting. The only models that don’t tend to have this capability are more entry-level and older products.
Those features automatically adjust the level of tint in the helmet concerning the brightness of the light sparking from the welder. A useful feature it is designed to stop the viewport on the helmet from allowing too much light in, but also stops it from getting too dark that you can’t see anything at all.
As not all welding helmets are made equally, however, you may end up your vision impaired if it gets too dark or worse still, welders’ eye if it does not darken enough.
Welders’ eye is not something you should dismiss and think it will never happen to you. It is something you should plan and prepare for and take the necessary precautions to prevent. Always wear safety goggles or a helmet with the right level of shading protection and the auto-darkening feature.
If you do take precautions and still get arc eye, at least with the above guide, you have a lot of helpful information and suggestions for treating it.