Flash Burns

Flash burns occur as a result of direct exposure to ultraviolet rays and require immediate care from your eye doctor.

Flash Burns

Flash burns happen when there is direct exposure to the bright ultraviolet (UV) rays which harm the cornea, the clear part that covers the front surface of the eye. The most common cause of flash burns are welding torches in which case it’s sometimes known as welder’s flash, however it can easily occur from any type of UV light as well. Imagine a sunburn, only this time it is not on the skin, but rather your eyes. This is a flash burn and it can impact both the eyes. If your cornea is damaged, it carries the ability to heal by itself in a couple of days with the possibility of avoiding scarring, but that’s only if you get the proper care from a professional. If you do not get immediate treatment for a flash burn, there could be serious complications that can cause vision loss. 

If you’ve been exposed to strong ultraviolet rays and you have any suspicion that this caused injury to your cornea, please book an appointment with the eye doctor right away. In case your eye doctor is not available, you should immediately visit the emergency room at your nearest hospital.

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Causes of Corneal Flash Burns

If your cornea is directly exposed to UV light without proper protection, it can easily be damaged. Some of the leading sources of UV light include:

  • The sun
  • Sunlamps that are typically seen in tanning salons
  • Photographer’s flood lamps
  • Nearby lightning strike
  • Halogen lamps
  • Direct sunlight in the eye
  • Watching solar eclipse
  • Reflection of the sun from water or off the snow
  • Welding torches

If you are not wearing the right kind of protective eyewear, the cornea could be damaged immediately. Wearing dark goggles or glasses can greatly reduce the risks of flash burns.


Some of the leading symptoms of flash burns include the following:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Feeling of a foreign object in the eye
  • Pain that may range from mild to severe
  • Extreme tearing
  • Blurry vision

The symptoms may present themselves in three to twelve hours from the time of ultraviolet exposure. If the flash burn occurred at work you should make sure that the management is notified to prevent any further damage. Make sure to see an eye doctor immediately.

Diagnosing a Flash Burn

Diagnosing a Flash Burn

In order to make the correct diagnosis, your eye doctor will examine your eyes, take a history of your medical conditions and will ask you for details about the time and cause of the flash burn. If you were exposed to ultraviolet radiation which caused damage to the cornea, the eye doctor would be able to make the right diagnosis immediately.

The eye doctor will check your eyelids, vision and the back part of your eye in order to understand the severity or extent of the damage or burn. Slit lamps are specifically designed to check the surface of your eyes so this tool will be very helpful in the diagnosis. The eye doctor may also give numbing eye drops to do a painless eye examination with a fluorescein dye that is applied to the cornea. This dye will temporarily stain the eye and make it look yellow just for a few minutes. The fluorescein allows the healthcare provider to clearly see the damage to the cornea when placing a blue filter on the eye which highlights the fluorescein.

Diagnosing a Flash Burn


If you have a flash burn from exposure to UV lights, it is strongly advised to go immediately to your eye doctor to confirm the problem and get the right treatment. Make sure to remove your contact lenses immediately and that you stop wearing the lenses until receiving proper guidance from your eye doctor.

The use of sunglasses can drastically help to reduce the discomfort from sensitivity to light. Artificial tears are also available over the counter for the treatment of any discomfort in the eye. Sometimes applying cold compress on your eyes could also be helpful. Your eye doctor will advise you what is the best way to treat your specific case and will prescribe any necessary medications. Your eyecare provider will also check if the flash burn caused any infections and will provide the relevant treatment. 

In the majority of cases, the cornea is able to repair itself and does not leave a scar behind. The healing is done in a couple of days if the recommendations of the eye doctor are followed. Often the eye doctor will ask you to come for a follow up within a few days to make sure that the cornea is healing properly.

Prevention of Flash Burns

If you are working in an environment where there are airborne particles, it is strongly recommended to purchase and wear good quality eye protective gear. This is especially applicable in environments where there are activities like shaving wood, drilling, grinding or welding. The use of safety goggles along with side shields can prevent any kind of eye injury. In order to further restrict the exposure to the UV lights, it is recommended to wear safety glasses with dark filters to reduce the exposure to the maximum possible extent. In order to ensure that the flash burns do not cause harm to any bystanders, shields can be given to people in the vicinity, in addition to properly publicizing the risks of passing by.

On days with bright sunlight, wearing sunglasses with ultra violet protection can be used to guard your eyes. The same can also be used when you are engaged in activities that involve sand, water or snow. If you are at high altitude sites, protective gear should be worn at all times.

Common Questions

This is another term which refers to the same phenomenon as a flash burn or welder’s flash. All of these names describe the effect that ultraviolet rays have on unprotected eyes. It is similar to getting a sunburn, but this occurs in the eyes and can cause pain and other symptoms. It is important to seek immediate care from an eye doctor in order to make sure that your eyes heal properly and to receive the proper treatment and guidance.
Be aware of the risks of your surroundings and the activities you are engaged in. If there is any chance of ultraviolet exposure that can harm your eyes, be vigilant to wear the proper protection. When you’re outside, do not look directly into the sun, be sure to wear sunglasses that block UV light and wear a hat with a wide brim. If you are involved in welding or activities that pose a similar threat to the eyes, wear goggles and the proper protection. The right protective gear can drastically reduce the risk of damage to your eyes due to ultraviolet rays.
Flash Burns
Dr. Wernick cartoon


It is important to be aware of the danger that direct exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause to our eyes. It is strongly recommended to wear the proper protective gear to prevent flash burns from occuring in our eyes. If you have any cause of concern that you may have a flash burn, please see your eye doctor right away to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment.

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