Am I turning into a boxing cartoon?
November 21, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Y'know how, in cartoons, when one is knocked out, particularly in a boxing match, there'll be stars floating around your head as you lay there? My grandfather said this was based on a real medical condition where boxers would see 'stars' of light in their field of vision after getting knocked out, and I need to know more about this. Details inside.

So my grandfather always said (this was years ago) that this was inspired by a real condition where, if you get 'punch-drunk', you'll potentially see little points of light, or 'stars', floating around your field of vision. Recently, I've noticed that I'll sometimes, especially when I've been shaking my head around a lot, see little points of dark light, like the size of lady bugs floating around. Any help on this? Google has yielded nothing for me.
posted by Ash3000 to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This happened to me often when I played high school football. This page says it's a symptom of concussions but I can attest to the fact that it can happen without a severe concussion.
posted by ofthestrait at 8:43 AM on November 21, 2006

I've seen it after a pretty nasty blow to my skull.

I also see them after a heavy duty sneeze. They last for maybe 30 seconds. Something about your retina temporarily shifting.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:45 AM on November 21, 2006

Oh yes, the look like tiny shimmering points of light.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2006

Seconding ofthestrait. I fell down a flight of stairs when I was younger and smashed my head against a step. Everything got all bright and splotchy. Interestingly, my girlfriend had something similar happen to her with similar results.

If we had children they'd be 'stairs challenged,' I think.
posted by owenkun at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2006

when I haven't eaten and stand up really quickly I see "stars" -- I always thought it's what they meant in cartoons.
posted by beccaj at 8:52 AM on November 21, 2006

I thought it was a figure of speech until I dislocated my shoulder. For just a moment -- until the shoulder slipped back in -- I was in intense pain and saw brilliant flashes of light.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2006

Try pushing on your eyeballs for a while, and eventually the stars will show up. Theres a name for the phenomenom and i swear it was listed in Klutz book called "Kids Shenanigans" that I must have read 15 years ago. I wish I could remember the name of the 'personal light show' but i am almost positive thats the same phenomenom that happens to boxers when they get hit.
posted by ZackTM at 8:57 AM on November 21, 2006

Unusual visual effects, like fireworks that aren't really there (usually in your peripheral but can be anywhere) or points of light can be a sign of retinal detachment or other nasty things going on in your eye.
If this has been going on for more than a day, you should probably see an eye doctor (an opthamologist, not an optometrist) about it. If it is retinal detachment, blindness will come very soon. If it isn't, then at least you'll be able to get some answers from the eye doctor about what it really is. (IANAOpthamologist).
posted by leapfrog at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2006

The whole "seeing stars" thing is apparently the visual cortex of the brain being stimulated as it hits the back of the skull. This usually only happens when you get hit really hard and the brain moves around a bit.

I'm getting this from the popular why do men have nipples book of which one of the authors is an ER physician.
posted by jourman2 at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2006

posted by ottereroticist at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2006


It's bad for your eyeballs. Really.
posted by hermitosis at 8:59 AM on November 21, 2006

A friend with a long history of recreational drug use is quite familiar with these stars -- but to him, they're more like twirly fireworks, or small, spinning vortexes of visual disruption. However, your little points of dark light sound like they could be floaters.
posted by Rash at 9:00 AM on November 21, 2006

Have seen these upon concussions on multiple occasions, but I can also get something similar from standing on my head for too long.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:04 AM on November 21, 2006

hehe sorry for telling everyone to push on their eyeballs. i swear thats what the book said though.

no one push on their eyeballs anymore please.
posted by ZackTM at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2006

It's bad for your eyeballs. Really.

I don't doubt that, but do you happen to have any references on this subject? I've heard from many people I trust that pressing on the eyes can be dangerous, but I haven't found any real information about it. I may just not know the right keywords to google. I'd really like to read up a bit on how much pressure is bad, what will happen etc.
posted by Science! at 10:09 AM on November 21, 2006

I get the little points of light all the time. When I'm tired and stand up too fast or turn my head too far in a particular direction. I thought they were normal.

FWIW, I also have oodles of floaters including one that's big enough to blot out the word "the" while reading. That's how I know my lights are a different phenomenon.
posted by LunaticFringe at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2006

I get these whenever I hit the ground hard, even if I don't hit my head. Since I'm a competitive volleyball player, I'd say that this happens about once a month. In my case it's probably neck related.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:37 AM on November 21, 2006

I get this kind of thing occasionally when working out, particularly if I'm maxing out on weight. Usually squats. And yes, it looks to me a lot like stars, I guess.
posted by dead_ at 10:37 AM on November 21, 2006

Eyeball massage can cause rupture of the globe, detachment of the lens or retina, and syncope. If not properly performed it can also damage the cornea.

In general it should never be performed, and certainly not by non-opththalmologists.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:51 AM on November 21, 2006

Science!, I don't have any specific references, but I had abrasions on the surface of my eye, caused by casually rubbing them for just a moment while, unbeknownst to me, a tiny irritant under my contact lens that I couldn't feel was scratching me. I wasn't aware of the abrasion until several hours later, when the pain started.

The scratch reached my iris, causing pigment to be released across the pupil, which was both painful and disorienting. Emergency doctor visit, antibiotics, eyepatch.

People who are used to wearing contact lenses don't necessarily always consciously remember they are wearing them until we prod, rub, and press our eyes and discover that our lens is suddenly folded like a napkin and lodged under our eyelid.

In fact, when I read ZackTM's comment, my hands were half-way to my eyes before I stopped myself.

Anyhow, I have read enough warnings about pushing on your eyes to see the pretty lights that I am going to go ahead and stand by my shrill sentiment, though if I can find a reference, I'll surely pass it along.

posted by hermitosis at 11:00 AM on November 21, 2006

I don't know, I've had the "blinky little lights" light-headed phenomenon that it sounds like other people are referring to, *AND* 'stars' after landing headfirst on a curb while skateboarding.

the latter, in my experience, was *much* more intense -- it basically looked like someone was holding a sparkler near my head -- i don't associate it with starting to black out or any other sorts of visual tricks.

I'm not sure the two are the same thing.
posted by fishfucker at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2006

As for the topic at hand, I've been knocked out twice. Once was from a powerful kick to the face in my friend's basement, the other was from an aluminum bat to the face in his neighbor's yard. I don't remember any stars or dark spots either time, however like other posters if I stand up really fast after a long period of time squatting I see tiny points of light.
posted by Science! at 11:39 AM on November 21, 2006

If I may follow up on the derail (and I understand if I may not), why, since you're not supposed to do it, does eyeball massage feel so damn good?
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2006

Second the floaters. Had them all my life.
posted by grateful at 12:20 PM on November 21, 2006

When I'm very tired, I get flashes of light when I move my eyes quickly. Sometimes they're in a well-defined circle, which I assume is my optic nerve tugging slightly on my retina and stimulating the cells near it.
posted by kindall at 1:03 PM on November 21, 2006

Sparring in Tae kwon do. Kicked in face. Hard. Stars. Yes.
posted by brownpau at 1:07 PM on November 21, 2006

Also reference blue field entoptic phenomenon.
posted by brownpau at 1:11 PM on November 21, 2006

OMG brownpau, thank you so much for that link. I've long experienced this phenomenon (usually while looking out the window of an airplane) and always wondered if it was some kind of flight-induced "there's a monkey on the wing" madness.

I once cracked my head *hard* after standing up quickly under a low forgotten wooden beam and experienced the classic stars-rotating-in-a-circle effect. It's distinctly different than what i've experienced in the blue field entopic phenom.
posted by jamaro at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2006

I also once hit the back of my head hard enough to see whirling stars, just like in the cartoons.

I've never hit my head hard enough to see the birdies...
posted by CoffeeCake at 2:43 PM on November 21, 2006

I can see little flickers briefly after a very strong sneeze, and they map to the patterns of the circulatory system I can see when the optometrist shines that bright light in my eyes. Vascular dialation (blood pressure spikes) can stretch your retina near the vessels and provoke such flashes.

You might be reproducing this effect by shaking your head.

Of course, if I started seeing such flashes with little or no provocation, I'd be going to the optometrist/opthalmalogist very quickly to make sure everything is tacked down properly back there. A detached retina or macular degeneration are best caught quickly.
posted by Crosius at 8:07 PM on November 21, 2006

Happens to me after a sneeze too. Personally, I enjoy them: Ooh. Sparkly.
posted by SampleSize at 8:45 PM on November 21, 2006

I think that the sneeze/cough sparks are different to the impact sparks; the former are caused by a drop in the thoracic pressure, which reduces blood flow to the brain (according to the doctor I specifically asked this of yesterday) - this does not cause any significant damage, either. Generally, the sparks form in a ring around the outside of your vision, and maybe move in short radial lines towards the centre of your vision.

I've seen two pther forms of the sparks, too (as others have mentioned) - one, when standing up quickly, looks like a few black/white spots sparking at the edges of my vision; these fade pretty quickly. Secondly, after receiving a heavy tackle in rugby when I was younger, my head bounced off the grass really hard. This impact caused numerous bright white/black sparks (there really is no other word that adequately describes them!) that seemed to move around of their own volition, fading out, and others coming into view - and took a couple of minutes of sitting still before it subsided.

I reckon that the impact sparks are likely caused by one of two things - probably related - either the impact has applied pressure to the eye or the optic nerve, or the movement of the brain has squeezed the blood vessels, reducing the pressure.
posted by Chunder at 7:27 AM on November 22, 2006

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