Corneal flash burns



What are corneal flash burns?

The clear front of the eyes, called the cornea, can be damaged by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from other light sources, such as a welder’s arc or camera flash.

These injuries are called corneal flash burns or ultraviolet keratitis, and is like a form of sunburn to the surface of the eye.

Corneal flash burns can cause pain, changes in vision or loss of vision.

How common are corneal flash burns?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of corneal flash burns?

The common symptoms of corneal flash burns are:

  • Pain that can be mild to very severe
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensation of a foreign body in the eye

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes corneal flash burns?

Radiation damage to the cornea leading to a flash burn can be caused by ultraviolet light from various sources:

  • Sunlamp in tanning salon
  • Reflection of the sun off the snow at high elevation (snow blindness)
  • Photographer’s flood lamp
  • Lightning that strikes close to you
  • Halogen lamp
  • Welding torch
  • Direct sunlight
  • Solar eclipse
  • Reflection of sunlight off water

Risk factors

What increases my risk for corneal flash burns?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are corneal flash burns diagnosed?

To make the diagnosis, your ophthalmologist or the physician in the hospital’s emergency department will take a history, examine your eyes, and discuss recent exposure you may have had to ultraviolet light.

  • Your eyelids, pupils, back of the eye, and vision are checked.
  • Your ophthalmologist looks at the surface of your eyes using special equipment, such as a slit lamp, made especially for examining the eye’s surface.
  • A numbing eyedrop to allow your eye to be examined and a painless dye called fluorescein may be put onto your eye to aid in the examination. The stain temporarily makes your eye look yellow but goes away after a few minutes. A special blue light is then used to evaluate the stained eye to determine if corneal damage is present. A damaged cornea, coupled with a history of ultraviolet light exposure, confirms the diagnosis of radiation eye burns or corneal flash burns.

How are corneal flash burns treated?


Treatment may involve pain medication, antibiotic medication or medication to enlarge (dilate) the pupils. Depending on your individual circumstances, any combination of these treatments, or none of them, may be indicated.

  • Topical antibiotic eye drops or ointment made specifically for the eye may be recommended to prevent infection in the damaged cornea. Some eye specialists may use steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation and to avoid potential scarring.
  • A short-acting medication may be used to paralyse the ciliary muscles of the eye, resulting in a fixed and dilated pupil. This medication is used to rest the muscles of the eyes, as well as to decrease pain from eye muscle spasms.
  • Oral medication can be used for pain control. Pain medication may be an anti-inflammatory pain medication such as ibuprofen. Other painkillers such as paracetamol may also be used. Rarely, stronger agents may be recommended.
  • Topical anaesthetics for the eye should never be used because they can slow the healing of the cornea and lead to ulcer formation.

Next steps – follow-up

In most cases you will need to follow-up with your eye specialist in 24-48 hours for a re-evaluation of the eyes and to make sure that the corneas are healing.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage corneal flash burns?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with corneal flash burns:

  • If you are experiencing eye pain and wear contact lenses, remove them immediately.
  • Sunglasses may help if your eyes are sensitive to light.
  • Over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricants may improve the discomfort in your eye.

To prevent damage to the cornea, wear protective eyeglasses that are coated to protect the cornea from ultraviolet light. The labels on the sunglasses indicate the level of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) protection.

Protective eyeglasses would include:

  • Sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB radiation
  • Ski goggles or ‘glacier glasses’, particularly at high elevations
  • Totally dark glasses if using tanning beds or lights, but remember tanning bed or lamp use has a risk of skin cancer and is not usually recommended.
  • A welder’s mask when welding

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: October 30, 2017

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