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Symptoms and Signs of Corneal Flash Burns

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 flood 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.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Corneal Flash Burns Symptoms

Any time from three to 12 hours after overexposure to ultraviolet light, you may begin to notice the following symptoms:

  • pain that can be mild to very severe,
  • bloodshot eyes,
  • light sensitivity,
  • excessive tearing,
  • blurry vision, or
  • the sensation of a foreign body in the eye.

In most cases, both eyes are involved, although the symptoms may be worse in the eye that received more ultraviolet radiation. This is very different from a corneal abrasion due to an injury, where, ordinarily, only one eye is involved.

Corneal Flash Burns Causes

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
  • reflection of sunlight off water

Common Eye Problems and Infections Slideshow

Common Eye Problems and Infections Slideshow

When it comes to signs of eye disease, Americans are blind to the facts. A recent survey showed that while nearly half (47%) of Americans worry more about going blind than losing their memory or their ability to walk or hear, almost 30% of those surveyed admitted to not getting their eyes checked.

The following slides take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of some of the most common eye diseases.


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