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!