Will welding melt contact lenses?
Reports of contact lenses being melted onto the eye have been proven to be incorrect. It is also impossible for contact lenses to become “welded” to the cornea (or lens of the eye) as a result of exposure to an arc flash.
Can I Wear Contact Lenses When Welding?
You may have heard the myth that arc welding can contact lenses, but there's no need to worry this has been proven many times that this is a false claim. It is perfectly safe to wear contact lenses whilst welding, however it is important to note that contact lenses are not designed to be safety devices and should not be worn as such, all normal precautions need to be taken when welding whilst wearing contact lenses.
Welding With Contact Lenses - The Myth
For almost 50 years, various welding organizations have received reports of welders claiming to have had contact lenses melting and fusing to their eyes either by heat from arc flashes or microwave radiation. None of these reports have been verified either medically or by any governmental agencies that would certainly want to know about such tragedies.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) traced the welding stories back to 1967. It says they couldn't possibly have happened, but there might be a grain of truth to the original version of events.
The myth might have started with a welder at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore in 1967. An arc flash hit his hard contact lens. He reported vision problems the next day, and an ophthalmological exam revealed severe ulcerations on his cornea. The eye doctor who examined the welder attributed the ulcerations to the welder wearing hard contact lenses for 17 to 18 hours after being hit by the arc flash. The ulcerations healed in short order, and there was no permanent loss of sight. Investigators found no connection between getting hit with the arc flash and the welder's temporary loss of vision.
Other regulatory agencies in worldwide are in agreement that these types of accidents couldn't possibly have happened. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a fact sheet that was last updated on August 24, 2015. Of the hazards listed in the fact sheet for wearers of contact lenses, welding isn't even mentioned.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) relates that heat produced from a welding arc or spark isn't of sufficient intensity to dry eye fluid. Contact lenses can't intensify that heat either.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)concurs. Its last fact sheet was updated on August 4, 2016. It states that reports of contact lenses being melted during welding and exposure to an arc flash are false, and that it's impossible for contact lenses to become "welded" to the cornea.
Contact lenses are sterilized with steam at around 120 degrees Celsius, they are also boiled to clean them so they don't melt from boiling water either. It's clearly an urban legend that welding while wearing contact lenses can cause them to melt and fuse to your eyes.
Welding And Contact Lenses
Although we have established that arc welding cannot fuse your contact lenses to your eye or melt your contact lenses it is worth pointing out that welding can cause problems for contact lens wearers, but no more than non contact lens wearers so don't panic.
The main issues to be aware of when welding are
- Arc Eye or Photokeratitis
This is caused by exposing the eye or eyes to high levels of UV light, when the UV comes from the sun this is called sun or snow blindness, but when from welding it is called Arc Eye.
Arc eye is a form of sunburn of the cornea and can easily be prevented by wearing the appropriate protective goggles or visors.
Whilst short-lived the pain can be acute and can come on several hours after exposure, so if you have been welding and experience painful, watery eyes several hours later you should rest with your eyes closed, applying a cold compress may also help, if symptoms persist, seek medical advice.
The College of Optometrists (BCO) says the damage is transitory and symptoms will be gone within 24 to 48 hours (mild photophobia and blurring may persist for a week or longer).
- Foreign Bodies
When welding you are often not the only workman on the workshop, and those other workers may be using angle grinders, band saws, sanding machines etc and all of these can throw debris, from sawdust to wood chips in the air which can all pose a hazard to your eyes
According to Welding Insider 25% of all injuries due to welding are eye related, they also say that most of these eye injuries are preventable, and the bulk are also reversible, 95% of welders sustaining eye injuries are back at work within a week, while over 50% return within two days.
Eye Protection When Welding
It is vitally important to wear the correct eye protection when welding or carrying out any hazardous task at work or at home when performing DIY.
Investing in a good welding helmet is money well spent, modern welding helmets can not only protect you from UV light that causes arc eye but also protect you from gasses, radiation, noxious gasses and dangerous splashes. You can also get welding masks that have leather scull caps and shoulder protection for even greater safety.
The correct protective eyewear for arc welding according to safetygoogles.co.uk must conform to approved standards EN 175 (standard for equipment protecting the face and eyes from optical radiation and welding hazards)
Other factors to take into consideration when choosing an arc-welding helmet are
- Shade Number
- Filter Reaction Time
- Arc Sensors
- Field of Vision
Welding whilst wearing contact lenses poses no extra risk than welding while not wearing contact lenses, the important factor is to make sure you are wearing the correct protective eyewear.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 26 Jun 2017, Last modified: 3 Jan 2023