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Can You Use a Welding Helmet to Look at the Sun?

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welding helmet

We all should avoid looking at the sun directly. Besides being a painful experience, it can cause partial blindness or even irreversible vision impairment. But can you look at the sun via welding helmets? According to information released by NASA, you can only look at the sun via a welding helmet if the helmet is compliant with the ISO 12312-2:2015 (transmission requirements for direct solar observation).

This article discusses the dangers of looking at the sun, how to use a welding helmet to protect your eyes, symptoms of eye damage, and safety tips for viewing the sun with a welding helmet.


Which Helmet Is Better Suited to Look at the Sun?

There are particular circumstances when we just can’t help the urge to stare at the sun, especially during an eclipse. Even though eclipses appear on planet earth about twice every year, it is a very rare event that attracts the attention of residents of a specific geographical location. Due to the rarity, solar eclipse viewing glasses tend to sell out, prompting people to look for alternatives such as welding helmets.

The helmet should also have a lens shade of 12 or higher. Different shade levels protect the eyes, making some helmets safer than others for sungazing. Any shade lighter than 12 is not adequate to protect your eyes from harmful UV/IR glare. Shade 13 is the most preferred, while shade 14 tends to be too dark. Moreover, most affordable welding masks retail at many stores don’t meet the minimum shade 12 requirements.

Opticians highly discourage openly staring at the sun. If your welding puts your vision in the sun’s line of sight, consider using objects around you to block the sunlight. But, if you must look at the sun, you need specialized welding helmets. Traditional welding helmets just can’t cut it; you are likely to notice issues with your vision, which is likely to worsen if you unceasingly look at the sun for years.

Proper welding helmets are designed to filter out any spectrum of light that is likely to damage your eyesight, allowing you to look at the sun without vision issues.

welder welding metal bars

Image Credit: gussencion, Pixabay

Is Staring at the Sun with Unprotected Eyes Dangerous?

As earlier mentioned, most people don’t have a reason to directly stare at the sun, except for the instance of an eclipse. While an eclipse is a marvelous sight to behold, it is also very dangerous. Our eyes have a corneal/blink reflex that prevents us from staring at the sun too long, but with one catch. The reflex usually kicks in after your eyes have already sustained some sort of damage. Therefore, it is hard to know exactly when your vision has been impaired until it happens.

Sunlight makes about 99.9% of all the light that gets into our eyes. It only takes a glance before your eyes are temporarily damaged. Without safety measures, staring at the sun could lead to permanent eye damage.

So, don’t be tempted to stare at an eclipse without any protection. Once you do, you are likely to see spots for the next few days. Retinopathy, a specific type of vision impairment caused by UV- A (ultraviolet type A, 295nm to 325nm), damages photoreceptors in your eyes which risks turning your eyes into blackened ciders consequently damaging your vision. This could easily lead to permanent blindness.

How Does a Welding Helmet Protect Your Eyes?

A welding helmet is a headgear that welders use to protect their neck, face, and neck areas. The headgear protects welders from heat and sparks. It also helps prevent retina burns and inflamed corneas from UV/IR radiation.

Welding helmets are typically designed with a viewing window, equipped with a filter known as the lens shade. The lens allows the welders to view the welding arc while also caring for their eyes. Every welding helmet is assigned a number that corresponds to the lens’ ability to filter out UV and infrared rays.

So, if you want to sun gaze with a welding helmet, ensure that the helmet has the appropriate shade number. The shade number 12 is the minimum allowed for viewing the sun, but shade 13 is better. On the other hand, shade 14 tends to be too dark to view the sun.

You can also use a helmet retrofitted with auto-darkening features to view the sun. Ever since their inception in the late 1980s, auto-darkening helmets have been a popular option for welders because they allow users to work with different types of welding.

These helmets are super convenient for sun gazing because they are equipped with an LCD shutter, which automatically adjusts depending on the level of brightness in the environment. This will protect a welder’s eyes no matter the type of materials they are working on.

All auto-darkening welding helmets have a shade lens up to shade 14; however, some have a maximum shade length of up to 13. When viewing the sun with an auto-darkening helmet, ensure that the sensitivity of the lens is tuned to a higher setting while the delay time is turned down. This adjustment will ensure that the lens quickly and promptly transitions from a bright to a darker shade to protect your eyes. A longer transition time will increase the risk of damaging your eyes while viewing the sun.

man welding metal

Image Credit: 12019, Pixabay

What Are the Symptoms of Eye Damage Due to Sunlight Overexposure?

The number one indicator of eye damage due to overexposure to the sun is experiencing pain in your eyes. There are also other signs. If you notice any of these symptoms, consider immediately getting out of the sun.

Pinguecula

This is a benign growth on the eye’s surface. It is characterized by the formation of yellow bumps on the eye’s outer lens and typically has a triangular shape. The yellow bumps are growths of fat, protein, or calcium. Pinguecula is likely to cause a lot of inflammation in your eyes.

Cataracts

A cataract is an eye condition caused by the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, located behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts tend to develop in both eyes, but they sometimes only affect one resulting in blurred vision. They are also the most common causes of vision loss, but fortunately, they are treatable.

Burning Eyes

Another common sign of vision problems due to sunlight overexposure is the experience of a burning sensation in your eyes. It is usually a sign that the fluids from your eyes have evaporated, and the brain needs to release more tears for lubrication.

Sensitivity

The more the time someone takes to view the sun or any other bright light sources, the less able the person will be to stare at such sources without experiencing pain. Overexposure to sunlight will gradually increase the sensitivity of your eyes.

Photokeratitis

Also known as ultraviolet keratitis, this is a medical condition that causes cracking, itching, and blistering of the eye. Patients suffering from this condition are also likely to experience severe pain in the eyes. If not detected and remedied early enough, it could progress to permanent blindness.

Macular Degeneration

This is a condition that can blur your central vision. It is caused by the deterioration of the central part of the retina, which records the images that we see. When the mid-section of the retina is completely damaged, your eyes can succumb to blindness. There is no cure yet for this eye affliction.

7 Safety Tips for viewing an Eclipse using a Welding Helmet

  1. Before you rush to view the sun using a welding helmet, confirm whether the shade number corresponds to the American Welding Society (AWS) DIN system for welders. Do not use any shade that is below 12.
  2. Always check the solar filter for any telltale signs of cracking or damage before viewing the sun using your welding helmet.
  3. After establishing that the welding helmet meets the standards and the filter is in working condition, you can then wear it. But first, make sure to include prescription safety glasses underneath the helmet for extra safety precautions.
  4. When viewing the sun, the position also matters. To protect your eyes, assume a stance where your feet are shoulder-width apart, and your movement is limited.
  5. As you may have learned, over-exposure to sunlight will likely lead to vision impairment. So, do not stare at the sun rays for an extended period of time. No matter how fascinating it may appear to be.
  6. You might think it a good idea to stare at an eclipse via a telescope while wearing a welding helmet. This is, however, a dangerous move because the intense light from the magnification can easily blind you.
  7. Finally, when viewing an eclipse or sungazing, never take your welding helmet off during the process. Only take it off after you are satisfied with the experience.

Conclusion

Taking safety measures is vital when looking at the sun, no matter how appealing the view. Your eyes are too important to overlook protection, even if it’s just for a few moments of bliss. So, don’t let your guard down whether you are sunbathing in your backyard or witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event.

Welding helmets can significantly reduce the risks of visual impairment from UV/IR lights more than regular sunglasses. However, the helmet must meet the ISO standards requirements and have a lens shade with a value of 12 and above. 

The ideal shade level for sun gazing is dependent on several factors, including your geolocation and type of welding helmet. Shade 13 is the best because 14 tends to be too dark to view.


Featured Image Credit: People Image Studio, Shutterstock

Cameron Dekker
 

Cameron grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a once-proud steel town on the Lehigh River, where he got a taste of TIG welding in his high school shop class. He holds certificates for Certified WeldingEducator (CWE) and Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT) from the American Welding Institute. His interests include scuba diving, sculpture, and kayaking.