Symptoms and Signs of Corneal Flash Burns

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 8/31/2021

Doctor's Notes on Corneal Flash Burns

The cornea is the clear window of tissue on the front of the eyeball. A corneal flash burn (also called ultraviolet [UV] keratitis) can be considered to be like a sunburn on the surface of the eye. When proper eye protection is not worn the cornea may be damaged by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from other sources of ultraviolet light, such as a welder's arc, a photographer's floor lamps, a sun lamp, or even a halogen desk lamp. 

Symptoms of Corneal Flash Burns may occur anywhere from three to 12 hours following exposure to ultraviolet light and may include

  • mild to very severe pain,
  • bloodshot eyes,
  • sensitivity to light,
  • excessive tearing,
  • blurred vision, or
  • feeling as if something is in the eye.

Most of the time, both eyes are affected but if one eye received more ultraviolet radiation symptoms may be worse in that eye. 

What Is the Treatment for Corneal Flash Burns?

Preventing burns to the surface of the eye is critical. Wearing proper eye protection with the proper filtering lens keeps corneal flash burns from happening in most cases.

When corneal flash burns do occur, they tend to be quite painful, even for minor burns.  Treatment for corneal flash burns may include: 

  • Dilating drops
  • Used to relax the eye muscles to decrease discomfort
  • Patching or covering the eye 
  • Cool compresses to decrease inflammation
  • Rewetting eye drops or gels
  • Wearing dark glasses or staying in dark rooms
  • Antibiotic drops or ointments to treat or prevent infection
  • Mild steroid-based anti-inflammatory drops may be prescribed 
  • Prescription-strength pain medications are often needed
  • Close follow up with an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) to watch for complications and confirm proper healing

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.