Help, I’m Seeing Stars: Photopsia Causes & When to See a Doctor

someone seeing stars

When a cartoon character is hit in the head, often with a frying pan or by a piano falling from the sky, they are typically depicted with stars floating around their head. While a regular appearance in cartoons, people in real life may also find themselves “seeing stars” and for more reasons than just a bump to the head.


What Does it Mean to See Stars?

Many people report seeing stars in their vision for a variety of reasons, but this commonplace saying typically refers to a phenomenon know as photopsia.

Photopsia is a medical term that refers to a number of visual disturbances including:

  • Seeing stars
  • Flashes of light
  • Seeing sparkles in your vision
  • Bright spots in your vision
  • Seeing floaters- A floater is a shadow, line, or cluster that moves across your vision slowly.

Seeing stars in your eyesight or spots in your vision can occur quite frequently and for a variety of reasons; some are more alarming than others.


Why Am I Seeing Stars?

While the term seeing stars is often used to refer to the aftermath of a bump to the head, there are several reasons why people see stars or other related vision abnormalities. Depending on what makes you see stars, you may be able to ignore it, or you may require immediate medical attention.

Some causes of seeing stars or other symptoms of photopsia include:

  • Rubbing your eyes or sneezing
  • Head trauma
  • Migraines
  • Disturbances in the brain
  • Retinal damage or detachment
  • Pregnancy

Rubbing Your Eyes or Sneezing

Seeing tiny moving spots of light or another visual disturbance after rubbing your eyes or sneezing is quite common. They are connected to temporary physical pressure on the eyes that activate cells in your retina and consequently make you see light. Photopsia from rubbing your eyes or sneezing should be brief and is typically harmless.

Head Trauma

One of the most common reasons someone may report seeing stars is from head trauma. A sudden blow to the head can interrupt normal brain functioning and cause your neurons to fire spontaneously. Your brain may interpret these signals as lights, spots, or flashes. After head trauma, you should get checked for a concussion and do as your doctor advises.


Some people who get migraines will experience visual disturbances such as seeing spots, colorful lights, or floaters in their vision immediately before their migraine. This phenomenon is specifically referred to as aura and usually lasts for less than an hour.

Other Disturbances in the Brain

While more rare, other brain disturbances outside of head trauma or migraines may cause someone to see stars including:

  • Diseases like cerebrovascular disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Low blood pressure or a sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Blood clots

Often these issues will interfere with the brain’s normal functioning and cause random firing of neurons in the occipital lobe, the area of the brain related to vision. These signals can be interpreted as floaters, bursts of light, or spots in someone’s vision.

Retinal Damage

Retinal damage is another common cause of photopsia symptoms such as seeing stars or spots in vision. The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of the eye that senses light and sends signals to the brain. It can become inflamed, deteriorated, or sometimes even detached from the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy, a side effect of diabetes, can also lead to damage to the blood vessels in the retina and lead to seeing floaters.

In other cases, disturbance to the vitreous gel, a special gel in front of the retina that protects it, may lead to visual disturbances. Floaters in your vision may also be a result of loose vitreous gel floating in your eye. When the retina or vitreous gel is disturbed, it can interfere with the messaging to the brain and lead to perceived lights or stars in vision.

Retinal damage is serious and requires immediate medical attention. If you have diabetes, make sure you regularly get comprehensive eye exams so your doctor can monitor potential damage to your retina.


Because those pregnant may have elevated blood pressure or glucose levels, it can lead to floaters in the eyes or other visual disturbances. In some cases, this may be a sign of a serious issue, so it is important to talk to your doctor immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.


When To See a Doctor About Stars in Your Vision

In some cases, the cause of seeing stars is harmless and symptoms are fleeting, but other times, it may require immediate medical attention.

You should see a doctor about seeing stars or other signs of photopsia if:

  • They will not go away
  • Both flashes and floaters are present in the same eye
  • They are becoming more and more frequent
  • You recently hit your head
  • It appears like a veil has been pulled over your vision
  • You are experiencing other symptoms like headaches or eye redness

No matter what causes floaters in your eyes or stars in your vision, it is important to seek medical attention if you suspect there may be a problem.


What To Expect When Seeing Your Doctor

When you go to optometrist for stars and floaters in your vision, your doctor will likely perform a variety of tests such as dilating your pupils or conducting an ultrasound. These tests are used to determine the root of the problem and give you a proper diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will work toward creating a treatment plan if necessary. Your care plan may include something as simple as resting your eyes or something more involved like eye disease management.

If you are seeing stars or other visual disturbances, it may be time to visit one of our offices. Contact us at Ideal EyeCare today to make your appointment. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your eye health.