If you are a welder or dealing with lighting radiation from natural or synthetic sources, you must protect your eyes. Although you use them to see our world and consider them quite strong, your eyes are very delicate and susceptible to dangerous symptoms when not cared for correctly. If you are not protecting your eyes appropriately, are you willing to face the repercussions of prematurely going blind?
What is arc eye, and what are the symptoms? Arc eye is a condition caused by direct exposure and subsequent absorption of ultraviolet light and UV radiation. Typically caused by welding, it can also be onset by other UVB/UVC sources. Symptoms may include redness, watering, blepharospasm, photophobia, and potential blindness.
Almost like a ‘sunburn of the eyes,’ arc eye can be a mild condition when diagnosed early and treated. Use this quick read to understand precisely what arc eye is, what symptoms indicate that you have it, and treatment options for the condition.
What Is Arc Eye?
All of the names used regarding this condition include:
- Arc Eye
- Welder’s Flash
- Welder’s Eye
- Ultraviolet (UV) burn
- Flash burns
- Snow Blindness
The condition is caused by the cornea of your eye being inflamed by excess UV radiation during the process of welding
What Causes Arc Eye?
The primary causes of arc eye include:
- Sources of UV radiation, such as:
- Arc Welding
- Welding torches
- UV Lights (such as a tanning bed)
- Lamps such as:
- Sun lamps
- Full Spectrum lighting that mimics sunlight
- Photographer’s flood lamps
- Halogen lamps
- An overload of ultraviolet radiation from an arc
- Direct sunlight
- Reflected or refracted light from surfaces like water and snow
- Unsuitable eye protection
- Complete lack of proper eye protection
What Are the Symptoms?
You may not experience symptoms of arc eye until a few hours after being exposed; however, some have reported feeling fine for up to 12 hours after exposure.
Symptoms to watch out for that may indicate arc eye include:
- Red eyes with inflammation
- Pained eyes
- Watery eyes (known as Lacrimation)
- Gritty feeling in eyes
- Sensitivity to direct light (known as photophobia)
- Inability to open your eyes
- Blepharospasm (abnormal blinking or eyelid spasms)
- Blurred vision
- Feeling of a foreign object being stuck in your eye
- Overall cornea sensitivity
The timing of the onset of symptoms varies from person to person, depending on:
- How much UV light and radiation you’ve exposed your eyes to
- How powerful that light was
- The light source (lamps, welding, etc.)
All of these factors can cause differences in the:
- Severity of symptoms
- Speed of onset of the symptoms
- Pain levels
- Severity of condition
- If it will be treatable or not
Your optometrist will likely take the following steps to diagnosis your arc eye:
- Inspection – Likely the easiest method. Sometimes this is all that will need to be done. If this doesn’t suffice, steps will be taken, such as dye and drops.
- Dye – Utilized by doctors to see any damage with a blue light, which is only visible once an eye-safe dye is used. The dye will run out of your eyes with tears and can be easily washed out.
- Anesthetic Drops – They may need to numb your eyes if your symptoms are severe. If you are unable to open your eyes or are experiencing spasms, these drops will help the doctor to diagnose you; however, you should never use these as treatment because they will delay the healing process.
How Long Does Arc Eye Last?
In most cases, you can rest easy knowing that arc eye is transitory and will likely not be permanent. Most symptoms will be gone within around 24 to 48 hours of their onset. If you have pre-existing eye conditions (such as photophobia or being prone to blurred vision), then your symptoms may persist for around a week or so.
The symptoms will alleviate shortly, but the real task is preventing an eye infection during this time. If not properly treated, an infection can ensue and significantly worsen the symptoms of arc eye, potentially leading to blindness.
Always consult a medical professional to determine if what you’re experiencing is arc eye, or if it is something else entirely.
How to Treat Arc Eye
Luckily, there are treatment steps you can take to remedy the symptoms from home. These include:
- A Clean Cold Press – Be sure that the fabric you use has been appropriately disinfected (you don’t want to add an eye infection on top of this). Avoid any fabrics which could have been washed with:
- The pet’s beds or towels
- Fecal matter
- Any kind of animal or bacteria-lending source.
- Dilating drops – Often used by optometrists to relax the muscles and blood vessels around your cornea. These drops will cause temporary blurred vision to help calm your eye and ease the pain. Just as sleep allows the body to rest, not using your eyes will allow your eyes to rest.
- An Eye-Dressing – An ideal method if you have photophobia and are experiencing extreme sensitivity to light. Choose a material that will block out any light sources, and give your arc eye a dark place to rest.
- Antibiotics or Ointment – Will often be prescribed by your optometrist to prevent infection. Always follow the prescribed dosage and do not exceed this as it can be dangerous for your vision. You may also be given a steroid-based treatment in the form of drops, which can limit the pain and reduce inflammation.
After being prescribed these medications or treatment methods, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your optometrist about two days afterward. Always set up this follow-up appointment to be safe.
As stated, symptoms should be mitigated by around the 48-hour mark, so this is the point at which your doctor should confirm your eyes are healing correctly. Infections, just as with arc eye, can take a few days to incubate and may not be onset immediately. Keep a close eye (for lack of a less ironic term) on your eye to confirm it is healing.
If issues persist, you may be recommended to an ophthalmologist that specializes in such conditions. Your optometrist is your eye specialist for diagnosis and treatment, while the ophthalmologist specializes in surgical interventions concerning eye care.
However, for as varied as the symptoms and potential causes of arc welder’s eye may be, the treatments are more varied still. It is, thus, important to consider your symptoms in light of the different treatments and determine with the assistance of a doctor which is right for you.
Let’s begin with dilating drops. These can be used to ease the pain in your eye muscles, which can be helpful if severe pain is one of the major symptoms from which you are suffering. They will dilate your pupils for a while, which will make them bigger and allow more light in. As a result, you should avoid going outside or being in bright areas during the duration of the dilation, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the dosage and course of treatment recommended by your doctor.
If infection has become an issue, your doctor may suggest antibiotic drops. If these are prescribed, you must see the prescription out – stopping midway could cause the infection to come roaring back, this time with greater immunity to the treatment. You will likely also be given a mild steroid to be used in conjunction with this treatment.
Some things to keep in mind when using eye drops include:
- Washing your hands each time you use them before touching your eyes
- Washing your eyes after each usage
- Pull down on your lower eyelid gently
- Tilt your head back
- Take care that the nozzle of the eyedropper doesn’t touch your eye
- Use the entire bottle or as much as the doctor instructs you to use
- While taking eye drops that dilate your eyes, wearing sunglasses is advisable, especially if you have to go outside
- Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes are back to normal
- If you continue to suffer from discomfort, artificial tears and lubricants may be helpful; you can usually find these at your local pharmacy
- If eye pain persists, you may be recommended to take a painkiller such as ibuprofen
If your case is still more severe, your doctor may decide it best to shield your eyes entirely, in which case they may wrap them in a dressing. These bandages are padded and block out external light and other external elements, giving your eyes the chance to heal. You should never drive while you have a dressing or eye patch on, even a partial one, as it may impair your vision too much to allow you the full range of vision you need to drive safely.
Regardless of the situation, you will want to review where you stand with your doctor at the end of 24 to 48 hours. At this time, they will perform a second inspection and check to see if your eyes are healing.
If you have simple arc welder’s flash, by this point, you should be seeing significant progress, if not already be entirely healed. If the situation is more serious, however, such as an especially serious case or additional problem, such as an infection, it may take more time, treatments, and meetings until you are healed. Above all, it is important to be patient and follow the advice of your doctor.
Last, but not least, it is worth noting that, to avoid all of this, it is important that you always keep your eyes protected in areas with especially bright flashes. You should always wear a mask while welding, while in other bright areas, sunglasses can be helpful for shielding your eyes.
Arc eye can be a very annoying condition, but in most cases, it is thankfully not something that should cost you your vision or lead to long-term discomfort. That said, you always want to make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions so you can heal fully and quickly. With their help, you should be able to overcome these symptoms, recover your full sight, and get back to welding in no time.
Tips While Treating Your Arc Eye
- Always wash your hands before touching the drops, eye-dressing, or your eyes themselves.
- Pull down your lower lid slightly by resting your finger on your cheek, tug it open gently to get the ointment or anti-infection drops where they are needed.
- Tilting your head back will help to get the drops through to the lower lid.
- Do not wear contact lenses while your eye is damaged.
- Do not stop utilizing your prescribed treatment until it is healed, or until the date that your eye doctor determines.
- Store your drops and ointment in the refrigerator unless otherwise instructed. Always keep your treatment prescriptions away from children.
- Never drive, weld, or attempt to utilize heavy machinery while you are suffering from arc eye or treating your arc eye.
The major takeaways for protecting your eyes in the future will simply be to:
- Wear safety goggles or specialized welding goggles
- Confirm that the goggles cover your entire eyes and you don’t have glimpses of light
- If only wearing sunglasses (in situations such as a tanning bed or being outdoors), be sure you wear sunglasses that are UVA- as well as UVB-protectant against radiation.
If you are experiencing arc eye, take care of yourself, keep your eye clean from bacteria, and stay in close communication with your eye care specialist. You should be good as new in a couple of days, hopefully having learned a harsh lesson about caring for your eyes properly.