Seeing Is Not Believing: Seeing Light When You Rub Your Eyes

phosphenesMost people have probably perceived strange lights when they close their eyes and rub them. This optical phenomenon, known as a phosphene, is characterized by the perception of lights despite the fact that there is not light entering the eye when it is being rubbed. The source of this entoptic phenomenon lies within the visual system itself. It is most often caused by some kind of stimulation to the retina, whether electrical, magnetic, or mechanical. In addition, any random discharge of an electrical signal within the eye can also cause phosphene. However, people who frequently see these strange lights should visit an eye doctor for proper diagnosis.

The eye can perceive light when none is present in several ways. In order for one to see, light waves must stimulate a person’s retina. The brain then translates those light waves into an image. However, physical, magnetic, and electrical factors can also stimulate the retina. Most strange lights that people see are induced by physical stimulus.



What Causes A Phosphene?

When people close their eyes and rub them, they activate cells in the retina. The brain is then required to interpret the signals into a visual image. This is why people see waves of patterns and colors. However, since there are no light waves actually encountering the retina, the brain cannot create an image, such as a burger or a sports car. Therefore, one simply sees colors and spots.

People who have gone an extended period without visual stimulus can also experience this phenomenon. This is why it is sometimes called the prisoner’s cinema. Laughing, sneezing, strong coughs, low blood pressure, or a blow to the head can also cause people to see these strange lights and stars. Some people under the influence of hallucinogens also report seeing strange lights; however, people should not confuse these lights with hallucinations, which occur in the brain.

Research shows that magnetic fields can also cause phosphenes. Magnetic fields can stimulate nerve cells in the brain through a process called transcranial magnetic stimulation. Depending on how and where the magnetic field is concentrated, different parts of the eye can be stimulated. Reports also indicate that astronauts sometimes experience this phenomenon in space due to the higher levels of radiation in space.

eye exam for healthWhat Can I Do If I See Phosphenes?

Usually, these strange lights are generally not a concern when it comes to eye health. However, a sudden increase of strange lights can be an indication of a detached retina, which can lead to permanent blindness. Therefore, it is important to contact an eye doctor immediately or rush to the emergency room.

If you are looking for an eye doctor for you or a loved one, we are committed to providing each patient with quality vision solutions. Our staff holds firmly to the value of offering excellent service, care and products through friendly, positive and professional teamwork.

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