Welding Flash

Photokeratitis, (Welder’s Flash, arc flash,arc eye, flash burn), is one of the many hazards associated with welding. It is caused by the ultraviolet light (UV) produced by the welding arc. What happens is the ultraviolet light causes a very painful inflammation of the cornea. It’s a lot like getting a sunburn, only it’s in your eye. Since it’s caused by ultraviolet light, it’s not just a welding problem. The sun, very bright lights/lamps, and even lightning can cause “welding flash”. One thing to note is that a torch can also cause this. Basically, any bright source of light that has an ultraviolet component can cause welding flash. NOTE: Often you’ll see people using a torch without a shaded lens. This is a VERY BAD idea. ALWAYS use a shaded lens or shield when using a torch.

If you’re curious about what it feels like, it’s often described as the feeling of burning sand being poured into your eyes. It’s painful, and exposure to light makes it worse. Your eyes will be watery and bloodshot, and it will feel like you’ve got something stuck in your eye. It’s really very unpleasant, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night with this feeling.

Depending on the severity of the burn, you may or may not see a doctor about it. If it’s a mild flash and you’re familiar with it, most welders are, you’ll probably just wear dark sunglasses and tough it out. I’m not recommending this, it’s just what I normally see happen. If you’re not familiar with it and/or it’s a strong flash, you should go to a doctor as soon as possible. They’ll check your eyes out and possibly give you some anesthetic drops and maybe some antibiotics to stop any infection that may occur. One good point to all this is that in most cases of welding flash, your cornea should heal completely and not scar.

One of the best ways to prevent welding flash is to always wear your safety glasses. They provide some extra protection against welding flash. This is especially important if you’re working around people that are welding even when you aren’t. Another thing is to wear an approved welding helmet with the correct shad of lens for whichever welding or cutting process that you are performing. You can find the lens guidelines HERE. Remember, you’ve only got two eyes. You need to take care of them the best that you can. BE SAFE!

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18 Responses to Welding Flash

  1. Jordan Rooney says:

    Hi, just to let everyone know, i had a welders flash, it lasts about 2 days, depending on intensity, i seeked medical attention right away (about 2 hours after i got it) they gave me drops to freeze the eye, and oinment. so i suggest you seek medical attention, if makes it alot less painful.

  2. Jordan says:

    i have a moderate welders flash, i went to see a doctor about it and he gave me drops and ointment, i am just wondering if someone could tell me how long it lasts.

  3. Tyler says:

    I work at a ship yard and me and five other welders were welding on 2 spuds back to back for 10 hrs last night and I have had flash burn for two days now I’ve had it before but never this bad its absolutely miserable my mom keeps worrying about it but I just tell her I have to tuff it out she’s worried I have permanent damage I don’t think I do tho what do you think?

  4. Vince says:

    i was under a trailer and i didnt have enough room for the welding helmet, so i took it off. Worst idea i ever had, i was arc welding and then woke up at 1 in the morning with a serious burning sensation in my eyes.

  5. Ryan Fatstacks says:

    Yeah, I MIG weld in a production line for a well known company and I got weld flash everyday for 2 months. Everyday Id go in with my $200 autodarkening helmet and a $20 pair of safties, and every night I couldnt open my eyes past 5 pm. Kinda bull since I work till 330. For a whole week I tried closing my eyes before I started my arcs. Still no change. Went to my eye doctor and told them, they still have no idea how it could be happening. My Boss told me that some peoples eyes are very sensitive… guess so since Im closed off in my own area with no UV leaks. fml

  6. admin says:

    Sorry to hear that Joseph. The only positive thing i can say is that you’ve learned a good lesson that you probably won’t ever forget. Protect those eyes, you’ve only got two of them! Hope you’re feeling better now.

  7. joseph s says:

    friends stick welding at school and me watching…..bad idea, it’s 2.35am right now and my eye are like a bloody lake…..learned my lesson, i guess no school tomorrow

  8. admin says:

    Wow Josh, you’re really lucky that it wasn’t worse. NEVER weld without eye protection. I recommend safety glasses AND a welding helmet with the appropriate lens. A #10 shade is a pretty good starting point. I try to use a #11 or #12 if i’m welding with high amps. On thin metal/low amps i’ll go to a #10 or only rarely a #9. Even though it was just a little welder, as you’ve found out it still produces plenty of ultraviolet light that will harm your eyes. I’m glad you’re okay, but I sure hope you never weld without a welding helmet again!

  9. Josh Slone says:

    Yea its been like 24 hrs and my eyes hurt still alittle was useing a little walmart portable stick welder didnt wear anything. It’s healing pretty nice bright light sometimes hurt but 3 last night i couldnt see a thing and water runnin out of them about cryed hurt so bad.

  10. Chris says:

    Thanks for your response. In fact after 3 days eveyrything was much better and is perfeclty good now. I can walk around without wearing shades, there is no pain anymore. I’ll have be more carefull in future.

    Anyway, thanks once again.

  11. admin says:

    Hi Chris. Sorry to hear that. Magnesium burns with an extremely intense arc, and in the process emits ultraviolet radiation just like a welding arc. Your ‘welder’s flash’ should only last 24-48 hours. I’m going to assume that you’re better now? My apologies since i didn’t see your comment until a couple days after you posted it. It sounds like you had a pretty mild case of flash, so you’re lucky in that respect.

    As to permanent damage, there’s always the chance of it but typically most people fully recover; at least in the short term. I really have no idea about long term though. I’m going to guess that it’s probably cumulative meaning that the the stronger the flash or the more frequently you get flashed probably adds up and affects your vision later on in life. I know my eyes aren’t as good as they once were, and that also seems to be the case for most of the welders I know. Now whether that’s from getting flashed, or from aging, or even just the act of welding, i don’t know. That’s why I always try to preach that virtues of safety glasses and eye protection in general. We’ve only got two eyes. We really need to take care of them.

    Good luck, and I hope everything is better for you now.

  12. Chris says:

    Recently I witnessed a fire which involved burning parts made from magnesium alloy (Elektron). I looked at them for about 20-30 seconds. I’am not a welder but now I suffer from the same symptoms as in “welders flash” (watery eyes, bright light gives me some pain). How long will those symptoms last? Is there any risk of permanent sight damage?

  13. admin says:

    Sorry to hear that Shawn. It’s definitely not an enjoyable feeling. You should get a soft hood for those times when you cant get your head into a tight space because of your hard hood. It’s basically a leather bag with a lens mounted in it. It’s soft and doesn’t take up much space like a regular hood. Tube welders use them a lot in boilers.

  14. shawn says:

    i am a mechanic and am experiencing welders flash right now i welded an exhaust today,and wore my shield through most of it,but i couldnt hit the tops of the weld with it on,because the space to fit my head was to small so i took it off,and i am realizing that that was a big mistake.The pain started about 2 hours after i finished,and for about two hours afterwards i couldnt hardly see.and now i am going through the pain

  15. admin says:

    Hey Mike, regular clear safety glasses will often times shield up to 99.9% of the uv light that causes welding flash. Don’t think that you need a shaded pair, or special shaded welding goggles to stop a flash. Many people don’t realize it, but most of the safety glasses available today have an anti-UV coating applied to them that’s designed just for this problem.

    I think i sound like a broken record, but i really can’t stress enough how important wearing your safety glasses is. Especially around welders and grinders! You’ve only got 2 eyes, make sure you take care of them. Good luck!

  16. Mike M. says:

    I also have a mild case of flash burn. I work with five other welders around me. I wear my helmet when welding, but in order to walk anywhere in the shop, I have to walk past the other guys. I stay as far away as possible, but obviously it wasnt far enough. They wont let us wear shades when walking around the shop. They say its a safty hazard. Wish they could feel this, they would change their minds..

  17. admin says:

    I’m sorry to hear that Tom. If it makes you feel any better, i know exactly how you feel and what you’re going through. Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy cure unless you go the the emergency room, and even then it’s not a sure thing that they’ll give you something to kill the pain.

    That’s why I always try to stress the importance of wearing SAFETY GLASSES. You’d be surprised at just how effective they are. On a normal job, i’m usually surrounded by welders, and i’m constantly getting flashed, but since i always wear my safety glasses, i rarely get any more than watery eyes. And even that is rare.

    Anyways, good luck. Hope your eyes get better soon, and remember to wear your safety glasses even while welding!

  18. Tom Soltman says:

    I’m suffering from a flash burn right now and the only relief is to wear sun glass. I have learned my leasson this is some of the worst pain i have ever felt with no break from it for almost 36 hours now. Wear sun glass and shut yourself in a dark room.

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