Seeing Stars

“Seeing stars” (professionally phosphenes) means perception of short bursts of light in our visual field. Occasional occurrence of phosphenes is relatively common and it is nothing we should be worried about. Long-lasting or frequently recurring perception of phosphenes may significantly reduce vision quality and it can be in addition related to some diseases.


Eyes rubbing

Rubbing eyes by hands is a situation that typically causes phosphenes. Pressure irritation of eye is related to a short-term occurrence of pressure phosphenes.

Head injury

Even a relatively small head injury with- or without concussion is associated with a temporary appearance of flashing lights. This is due to brain irritation by external force.


Flashing lights perception typically accompanies migraine attacks. It occurs shortly before a migraine attack and therefore we mark it as a part of the so-called “aura”.

Blood pressure changes

Visual phosphenes are related either to conditions with elevated blood pressure or low blood pressure (together with dizziness and weakness).

Multiple Sclerosis

Optic nerve affection is usual in younger women and manifests with various outages of visual field, blurred vision and appearance of flashing lights.

Eye diseases

Many eye diseases related to irritation or damage to retina may result in unpleasant vision of “seeing stars”. These include retinal detachment, glaucoma and rarely even ophthalmic melanoma. Phosphenes sometimes occur in patients after cataract surgery.

Diagnostic approach

Annoying appearance of flashing lights should be investigated by an ophthalmologist. Eye examination including retinal exam, visual acuity and peripheral vision is usually performed. It is also possible to measure the intraocular pressure. Neurological examination is advisable in suspicion of migraine or multiple sclerosis. If there is present any neurological deviation, it is recommended to execute electroencephalography and brain computed tomography or possibly magnetic resonance imaging.

Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources