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Corneal Flash Burns


What is a corneal flash burn?

A corneal flash burn is when your cornea is burned by too much ultraviolet (UV) light. The cornea is the clear layer of tissue that covers the front of your eye.

Eye Anatomy

What causes a corneal flash burn?

Anything that shines enough UV light may burn your cornea.

  • Sunlight: You may get a corneal flash burn when you look directly at or near the sun. Your risk is increased at higher elevations.
  • Sun reflection: Sun reflects brightly off of sand, snow, and water. For example, you can get a corneal flash burn if you are waterskiing.
  • Tanning beds: The bright lights of tanning beds can cause a corneal flash burn.
  • Welding tools: Welding arc torches create bright sparks that can cause a corneal flash burn.
  • Bright lights: Lasers and halogen lights are examples of bright lights that can cause corneal flash burns. Bright signs or lamps used in a lab or dental office may also cause a corneal flash burn.

What are the signs and symptoms of a corneal flash burn?

  • Eye pain or pain when you look at light
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen or twitching eyelid
  • Hazy or cloudy eye
  • Eyesight becomes worse
  • Red eye or red skin around your eye

How is a corneal flash burn diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your eye. He will ask what you were doing when your symptoms began. He may check your eyelid. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • Slit-lamp test: This test uses a microscope to look into your eye and check for injury. A dye may be used to look for damage to your cornea.
  • Visual acuity test: This test checks your vision and eye movements.

How is a corneal flash burn treated?

Your signs and symptoms may go away on their own. If they continue, you may need any of the following:

  • Artificial tears and ointment: Artificial tears are used to keep your eye moist. Ointment is used to soothe and protect your eye. This will decrease your pain and help prevent your eyelid from sticking to your eye.
  • Cool, moist bandage: This is applied to your eye and covered with a small ice pack to decrease pain.
  • Eye patch or shield: An eye patch or plastic shield can protect your eye as it heals.
    Eye Patch Eye Shield
  • Medicines:
    • Pain medicine: You may be given prescription medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. This medicine may be given as an eye drop, cream, or pill.
    • Antibiotic medicine: This medicine will help prevent an eye infection. It may be given as an eye drop or ointment.
    • Cycloplegic medicine: This medicine dilates your pupil and relaxes your eye muscles. This will help decrease your pain.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery if your corneal flash burn has caused severe damage to your eye. Your healthcare provider may replace your damaged cornea with a new one.

What are the risks of a corneal flash burn?

You may have permanent eye damage, even with treatment. You may get an eye infection. If you have surgery to replace your cornea, your body may reject the new cornea. You may need to have another surgery. You may develop a cataract. Without treatment, your pain may become worse. You may have a hard time keeping your eye open. You may have vision loss or permanent eye damage.

How can I help prevent a corneal flash burn?

  • Wear sunglasses if you are outside: Check your sunglasses for a label that says it blocks UV light. Choose sunglasses that protect as much of your eyes as possible. Do not look directly into the sun.
  • Wear a hat: Wear a hat or a cap with a wide brim to shade your eyes from sunlight.
  • Wear goggles in a tanning bed: This will decrease the amount of UV light that reaches your eyes while you tan.
  • Wear proper work equipment: Goggles and helmets will help protect your eyes if you work with welding tools.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have pain after 2 days of treatment.
  • Your vision does not return to normal.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have severe pain.
  • Your eye is leaking blood or pus.
  • Your vision suddenly becomes worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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