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Seeing Stars? Learn About Potential Causes

May 6, 2022
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Changes in vision are pretty common. Many people experience flashing lights, shimmering lines, or even bright stars in their field of vision. In many cases, this is normal and not the sign of a more serious problem. But sometimes, vision changes can indicate an underlying problem with your eyes. If you’ve been seeing stars or other bright objects in your vision, how should you know when to see an eye doctor?


Blow to the head


A common cause of vision changes is a blow to the head. (There’s a reason that cartoons always show stars around someone’s head when they have been hit!) If you were in a sports-related collision or car accident, you may have instantly seen flashing lights or stars in your field of vision. After taking any blow to the head, see a doctor immediately to rule out the possibility of a concussion. 


Retinal detachment


A far more serious cause of seeing stars or other vision changes is retinal detachment. People who have suffered an eye injury are most at risk for having a retinal detachment, but those who have recently had eye surgery are also potential candidates. A severe blow to the head can also cause retinal detachment. Symptoms of retinal detachment include seeing flashing lights in one or both eyes, black specks floating in your vision, and seeing stars. In extreme cases, retinal detachment can cause blindness.


Retinal detachment requires emergency surgery. If you’ve recently had eye surgery or experienced an eye or head injury and you’re having vision changes, see your eye doctor or visit the emergency room as soon as possible.


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Migraine - Classification

Migraine - Classification

Retinal migraine


One unusual cause of visual disturbances is retinal migraine, also known as ocular migraine–a type of migraine headache which is accompanied by strange, often scary flashing, shimmering lights or jagged lines. Retinal migraines are relatively rare: A report on retinal migraine headaches states that data on them doesn’t even exist due to their infrequency! However, migraines in general occur in 18.2% of female patients and only 6.5% of male patients. About 29% of people who experience retinal migraines have a previous history of migraine headaches, while 50% have a family history of migraines.


Retinal migraines aren’t usually cause for concern, though, unless they occur frequently. Having an occasional retinal migraine doesn’t mean you need any specific treatment, but if the migraine starts occurring more and more often, you may need to make some lifestyle changes. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco is a good start. If that doesn’t help, medication is an option–discuss this with your eye doctor. 


Keep your eyes healthy 


As stated above, most of the time, seeing stars or flashing lights in your vision is not cause for concern unless you’ve recently had eye surgery, taken a blow to the head or had some type of eye injury. If you’ve been having vision changes and you don’t know why, chances are it’s nothing serious. But to lower your risk of experiencing visual disturbances of any kind, avoid alcohol and caffeine when possible, don’t smoke, and eat a healthy diet with plenty of leafy green vegetables.


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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