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So you wore the wrong helmet or used the wrong lens shade. You were fine welding for a few hours, but then you went home feeling like there’s a grain of sand in your eye. You’re probably suffering from what they call the welder’s eye.
Photokeratitis is known by a number of names in the welding community. It’s commonly called welder’s flash, flash burn, or arc eye. It’s that painful inflammation of the cornea, the clear tissue on your eye. This delicate tissue is susceptible to foreign objects and radiation. Welder’s flash happens when your cornea is exposed to significant amounts of ultraviolet radiation, one of the hazards of welding.
What’s really happening is that the UV radiation burns the outer layer of the cornea (corneal epithelium). In most cases, it’s not serious, as your cornea heals itself in a few days. But apart from the ordeal being painful, it can prelude an eye infection that threatens loss of vision. Hence, prompt treatment is in order. Read our review on the Best Welding Safety Glasses.
- Eye pain (may range from mild to severe depending on the extent of the injury)
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Blurred vision
- Foreign body sensation (as if there’s something scratching your eye)
When you experience any of these symptoms after working in a welding shop, you need to see an eye doctor for an eye exam. The diagnosis includes slit lamp examination and application of fluoroscein dye. If the dye stains the cornea, that’s an indication of superficial corneal damage (1).
Treatment of Welder’s Flash
Although photokeratitis heals on its own, the discomfort is enough for people to seek treatment. The most common treatment regimen is application of anti-inflammatory eye drops. Damaged corneal epithelium is prone to bacterial infections. Hence, anti-bacterial eye drops may also be prescribed.
Arc eye renders you unavailable for work for a few days. As you allow your eyes to recover, there are several things you can do at home to hasten cornea healing.
- Padded dressing. Padded dressing allows healing with a lower risk of developing an infection. That’s because the dressing blocks foreign objects from doing more harm on your eyes. Also, it blocks sunlight and, therefore, acts to block the sun’s UV radiation as well.
- Avoiding sun exposure. You’re better off staying away from sunlight until your cornea heals. Exposure to sunlight can exacerbate your eye inflammation and delay your recovery.
- OTC analgesics. Paracetamol is a common over-the-counter medication used to manage pain, and you can take it to reduce eye discomfort. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, are also beneficial in pain reduction, as well as management of the inflammation of your cornea. Your doctor, however, may prescribe other pain medications or anti-inflammatory drugs. Be sure to follow your doctor’s prescription. (If you want to try safe remedies, consider turmeric, willow bark, and cloves. These contain compounds that act as anti-inflammatory and pain killing agents).
- Eye lubricant. Keeping your eyes moist aids in healing. The last thing you need is a pair of dry eyes. Your doctor probably will prescribe artificial tears or eye lubricant in addition to anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops or medications. If not, you can buy artificial tears. Some popular brands include Visine, Optive, and Systane. They’re generally safe.
- Sunglasses. Like eye dressings, sunglasses protect your eyes from sun exposure, albeit in a less intrusive way. However, make sure your sunglasses come with sufficient UV protection. Otherwise, you’re compromising your eyes even more. Also, sunglasses shouldn’t keep you outdoors, especially on a sunny day. You still need to stay indoors, limit or avoid sun exposure, and rest your eyes.
- Ice. Ice is a natural pain reliever. It also helps alleviate inflammation. Just don’t put ice directly on your affected eye. Instead, hold an ice pack on your eyes for 5 to 10 minutes. Ice doesn’t only reduce swelling but it also feels refreshing.
- Teabags and cucumbers. Antioxidants, which you can find in tea, are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Many welders swear by tea bags as an effective way to get relief from arc flash. Cucumber slices also provide relief from inflammation.
- Wet towel. If none of the things above are available, you probably have a clean cloth or towel you can soak in cool water and set over your eyes.
These tips shouldn’t replace your doctor’s advice. When in doubt, consult your ophthalmologist.
Also, when you’re applying ointments or eye drops, make sure you wash your hands first! Don’t touch the nozzle of the eye drops bottle with your fingers, and don’t let it touch your eyelashes to avoid risk of contamination. Follow doctor’s dosage orders for anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops. Your doctor will tell you to come back after a few days to see any improvement. Ideally, your eyes should feel better after 2 or 3 days.
Arc eye is like eye sunburn. It can affect both eyes. For welders, it’s due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation emitted by the arc. It means you’re wearing the wrong lens shade while working.
While the cornea can heal itself, repeated exposure to harmful levels of radiation from the welding arc can injure not only the cornea but also the delicate cells in the retina.
Your vision is an important asset in your job,so take good care of it.
Prevention is better than cure – read our article on How to Prevent Welders from Flash.