Flashes of light swimming in front of eyes, not retinal detachment or migraine
July 8, 2012 5:48 PM   Subscribe

What could be causing flashes of light in front of my eyes when I look out of the extreme corners of my eyes? Retinal detachment or migraine precursor has been ruled out.

Ever since I was little I have noticed that when I look at something out of the extreme corners of my eyes I get arcs or flashes of moving light after my eyes come back to center. Sometimes the flashes last up to 10 seconds, swimming across my field of vision until fading away. The last time it happened was when I was in the exam chair and my eyes were dilated and my opthalmologist had been asking me to look off to the right while he examined my retinas. When I asked him why looking out of the extreme corners of my eyes caused swimming lights, he checked right away for retinal detachment but didn't find anything wrong. He pretty much shrugged his shoulders and couldn't venture an opinion as to why that's always happened to me.

Like I said, this has been since early childhood, and while I am nearing 50 and have a few floaters, it has never shown up as retinal detachment. It is never followed by a headache, and always goes away after a few seconds.
posted by Revie1 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
I'd guess it's related to the 'fireworks' you get when you close your eyes hard. Some sort of pressure/nerve stimulation effect.
posted by Lady Li at 5:50 PM on July 8, 2012

Even though this phenomenon does not precede a migraine, do you suffer from migraines more generally? I ask because the visual systems of people that have migraines have some differences from those that do not.

This may be the interaction between two phenomena:
1. as Lady Li describes, phosphenes, which create an apparent sudden increase in the luminance of areas of your visual field
2. a strobing effect that some migraine sufferers observe when their visual field undergoes a rapid change in luminance (this effect is not limited to the onset of migraines).
posted by Jpfed at 6:03 PM on July 8, 2012

Probably phosphenes. I get them if I look too hard out of the corners of my eyes, or overexert myself suddenly. To me they look like curving meteor streaks or the glow of the individual fibers of steel wool after you light them with a battery.
posted by WasabiFlux at 6:07 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jpfed, I get headaches, but I wouldn't consider them migraines as I can function when I have them and they generally respond to ibuprofen or tylenol/caffeine. I have never noticed that I've gotten a headache after seeing the flashing lights.
posted by Revie1 at 6:09 PM on July 8, 2012

Yeah, phosphenes, most likely. They're what you get when you close your eyes really tight, or press on them, or look at a bright light and then look away. Looking to the extremes in any direction puts tension on your eyes from the musculature and can cause that sort of strain. Happens to me all the time, which is why I try to avoid doing just that.
posted by valkyryn at 6:16 PM on July 8, 2012

A former co-worker of mine used to get all the visual "impending migraine" symptoms without a serious migraine, just a mild one, and sometimes no headache at all. Her neurologist told her that although it was uncommon, some people get just the visual part of a migraine. You may be in that small group.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 8:27 PM on July 8, 2012

There is such a thing as a minor migraine - I get hormonal migraines that always go away with ibuprofen if I catch them early. I wouldn't go around self-describing as a 'migraine sufferer' or telling people it's a migraine, since I don't want to diminish the suffering of people who get what I think of as "real" migraines.
posted by Lady Li at 9:25 PM on July 8, 2012

If it happens every time you move your eyes to the extreme periphery of your visual field and at no other time, it does sound more likely to be the result of physical pressure/strain than a migraine symptom.
posted by contraption at 11:35 PM on July 8, 2012

My mom had something similar in one eye. It turned out to be ischemic crvo. Don't mess with this ... please get it checked out. She thought it was just a quirk and the doctors just kind of acted like it was no big deal, but it was a big deal. We she finally got a correct diagnosis, it was too late to help.
posted by Ostara at 11:48 PM on July 8, 2012

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