Seeing stars
July 2, 2007 12:14 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean if I'm seeing stars?

Twice over the last week or two I've found myself "seeing stars", which is to say, sparkly white flecks of light dancing across my field of vision. They last for a couple of seconds at most.

I've forgotten the situation surrounding the first instance. The second time was after coughing particularly hard to clear my throat. I'm just sitting in a chair in my living room, usually tapping away on my notebook.

I'm not staring at a bright light (the window is behind me). I don't feel dizzy when it happens, or get a headache. In fact, I feel fine. I just see stars. I'd find it quite entertaining if it wasn't worrying.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I should add to this that I've not been hit on the head recently, or suffered any kind of trauma.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 12:19 PM on July 2, 2007

Floaters and Flashes
posted by vacapinta at 12:25 PM on July 2, 2007

You need to see a doctor. My eye doctor told me to watch out for such symptoms as signs of impending retinal detachment.
posted by hermitosis at 12:27 PM on July 2, 2007

Are you nearsighted (myopia?)

I just -- literally, JUST -- had a conversation with a coworker who will be out the remainder of the week (at least) because he noticed "floaters" in his vision had suddenly increased dramatically. This led to a quick eye doctor visit and retinal exam, which led to the discovery of holes in his retina. He'll be getting laser surgery today on one eye to attempt to seal the holes (the other eye will follow shortly thereafter.)

Check out "Myopia" and "Retinal Holes" in your nearest search engine/online 'cyclopedia for details. Other indicators (besides increased floater activity) are certain other visual artifacts, a category into which your symptoms as described might fall.

It's a pretty serious (and relatively unknown) issue associated with Myopia, but not restricted to it, and I strongly advise you to get thee to an eye doctor if what you're experiencing aligns with what you read about "Myopia" and "Retinal Holes".
posted by davejay at 12:27 PM on July 2, 2007

You do not say how old you are, but this is a possible sign of a detached retina (which becomes rather common as you get old). It is possible to cough hard enough to cause retinal detachment or tearing. Do you have any darkness, or wavy or watery vision? Is it just one eye, or both?

Google for detached retina, and if any of the other symptoms there describe you, you need to see an eye doctor immediately, this afternoon. That's a very serious condition that can cause loss of vision.

Even if you don't have the other symptoms I would recommend a doctor's visit soon.
posted by jellicle at 12:30 PM on July 2, 2007

I get these fairly often. I asked the eye doctor about it maybe a month ago, and he told me it was nothing to worry about unless there was a sudden increase in the frequency or severity of the floaters. That sudden change might signal the beginnings of a detached retina or other problems, and should be attended to by a doctor ASAP.
posted by vytae at 12:33 PM on July 2, 2007

I get something that resembles tiny little flecks of light, that "swim" in wiggles. If you've ever seen "whirlygig beetles" on the surface of a pond, that's what they look like. I've had them for as long as I can remember, usually when I stand up too quickly. I'm also very shortsighted. My optician has never commented on them, and they've never caused a problem.

It might be worth getting it checked out, just in case.
posted by Solomon at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2007

Sounds like retinal detachment. Go to your eye doctor soon. I too am at risk for retinal detachment, and twice over a week out of the blue would concern me.

Also see this thread.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:44 PM on July 2, 2007

I wear glasses for astigmatism, but I'm not nearsighted.

No increase in floater activity, which is to say, I have some, but they haven't been more active than usual. I do have bad eye strain today, however, after not wearing my glasses for a few hours.

My father has a detached retina so I've got a little experience of this.

I think it's just one of those things. If it starts happening more frequently, or if I get a sudden increase in floaters, then I'll get it checked out. Thanks all.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 12:44 PM on July 2, 2007

Stars and sparkles from coughing hard are normal and caused by the change in ocular pressure. If your vision is otherwise unchanged, you're not noting an increase of floating artifacts in your vision, and this boils down to a couple incidents in a couple weeks, I think you're fine (I have these all the time, over many years, and I have my eyes checked regularly). Heed any sudden change in your vision or uptick in these flashes, though.
posted by nanojath at 12:46 PM on July 2, 2007

I get this too and I was at my neurologist for migraines and MRI results and asked about the, wondering if it was related to anything. He said it's completely normal and not to worry. If I were you I'd see a doctor because it will make you feel a lot better than hearing you're totally fine from a bunch of non-doctors. Or, like you said, wait and see if it gets more severe. Good luck.
posted by sneakin at 1:42 PM on July 2, 2007

IANAD and i'm sure someone's already said, but that's possibly a sign of your retina detaching. My officemate had that happen not too long ago.
posted by Soulbee at 1:58 PM on July 2, 2007

"I get something that resembles tiny little flecks of light, that "swim" in wiggles. If you've ever seen "whirlygig beetles" on the surface of a pond, that's what they look like."

Solomon: That sounds like blue field entoptic phenomenon, and the squiggly things are white blood cells running through capillaries in front of your retina. I guess when you stand up quickly the red blood cells thin out and make the effect more pronounced. I guess the important thing is *why* the blood is thinning out :)

I find it can get quite impressive with the right angle and a clear blue sky, to the point at which it seems like the sky is full of bright dancing stars. More typically you can see it as something like tiny insects skitting across your field of vision; for a very long time that's what I thought they were.
posted by Freaky at 2:11 PM on July 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

What nanojath said. If they're the sort of "fireflies" like I get, well, I've seen them for several decades, and my retina has stubbornly refused to detach. No big woop.

I'm sure I'll go stone blind tomorrow while driving, though, and slam right into the trunk of some officious member of the "see a doctor!!" crowd.
posted by gimonca at 2:13 PM on July 2, 2007

If this is something new, you should see an eye doctor. Even if you have a only a small chance of a retinal tear, it's a big deal. Yes, it is a common thing that usually does not mean there is a problem, but it is very quick to get it checked and see if it is a problem for you.
posted by yohko at 2:31 PM on July 2, 2007

Oh wow, I am so glad I know about that blue field entoptic phenomenon- I've always wondered why I see little swimming flecks when I stare up into the sky and let my eyes lose focus. Cool.
posted by MadamM at 2:47 PM on July 2, 2007

I get flashes when I forget to eat.
Have you been eating?
posted by Methylviolet at 3:28 PM on July 2, 2007

I get these occasionally when I sneeze. I like them. They are sparkly.
posted by SampleSize at 7:05 PM on July 2, 2007

A sudden increase in floaters, or a new, obtrusive dark floater is a signal of a retinal tear, or imminent detachment. A field of black specks, as well, is worrisome. I would worry far more about dark floaters/specks than I would about sparkly ones. I've had retinal tears; signified by new floaters/field of specks. I've also had the pretty sparklies from exertion, sudden change in body elevation, and coughing/sneezing, with no subsequent change in vision.
posted by Savannah at 8:46 PM on July 2, 2007

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