What Is Photopsia?
The term “photopsia” refers to the perception of flashes of light. If someone has photopsia, they will see lightning flashes in their vision even though there is no lightning outside. Photopsia usually indicates damage to the retina. However, it may also be seen with ocular migraines. People who experience photopsia should be seen by an eyecare provider as soon as possible to rule out the chance of a retinal tear or detachment.
- Photopsia is the perception of flashes of light in ones vision.
- Photopsia symptoms may occur with migraines or with retinal tears.
- People experiencing photopsia should be examined by an eye doctor as soon as possible to determine if there is a retinal detachment or retinal tear.
Photopsia is known as the subjective experience of flashes of white light in the vision. It is created by electrical or mechanical stimulation in your eyes. Another name for photopsia is ‘flashes’. The flashes of light may be present in one eye or both eyes. Photopsia usually lasts for a few seconds at a time.
In some cases, photopsia occurs with other symptoms such as:
- Blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
- A sudden increase in floaters
- A curtain or veil covering part of the vision
Causes Of Photopsia
Numerous eye disorders can lead to photopsia.
- Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD)
The eye is filled with a jelly-like substance called the vitreous. The vitreous is made of water, collagen, and hyaluronic acid. The vitreous pads the eye, protects it from damage, and helps the eye keep its normal shape. Over time, the vitreous jelly breaks down. The vitreous starts to pull away from the back of the eye (the retina) as it breaks down. The vitreous breakdown is a normal process that occurs in healthy eyes. 70% of people over the age of 70 have a posterior vitreous detachment. However, in rare cases, the vitreous will pull on the back of the eye (retina) as it breaks down and cause a retinal tear. A posterior vitreous detachment can cause flashes of light in the vision, known as photopsia. A posterior vitreous detachment is the most likely cause of photopsia in older individuals. The lights usually disappear after three months.
- Retinal Tear or Detachment
The retina is essentially the thin wallpaper that lines the back of the eyes. It senses light and is responsible for clear, sharp vision. The brain receives light signals from the retina. If the retina tears or detaches from the back of the eye, the photoreceptors are shifted around and this can cause the perception of flashes of light. A retinal tear or detachment is an eye emergency that can cause permanent vision loss if not treated promptly.
- Macular Degeneration
In persons 50 and older, Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a prevalent eye disease. The macula slowly deteriorates with AMD, which might result in photopsia.
- Ocular Migraine
Some migraines occur with visual disturbances called auras. An aura might appear as zig-zag lines in the vision, colors in the vision, or a black spot in the vision. Auras usually occur before the headache, and signal that a headache is coming thereafter. Most people with migraines do not experience an aura or any visual symptoms. People who have migraines with aura may experience photopsia symptoms. Typically, the visual symptoms are bilateral. Other symptoms that can occur with migraines with aura are numbness and tingling, light sensitivity, or nausea.
- Optic Neuritis
Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a cord-like structure that connects the eye to the brain and transmits visual signals. It can cause eye pain, loss of color perception, blurry vision, and photopsia.
Photopsia may be a sign of a vision-threatening retinal condition. An eye doctor should be seen as soon as possible after you notice photopsia. The doctor will perform the following procedures to examine the eyes:
- Questions asking how often the flashes occur, which eye, and when they started
- Dilation drops to open up the pupil, and see into the back of the eye to examine the retina
- Checking the vitreous for any pigment (Shafer sign) that indicates a retinal tear
- Using magnifying lenses to examine the retina and other structures in the back of the eye