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flashing lights in my vision
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flashing lights in my vision

Just today, as I look up from a report to the computer monitor, I noticed a portion of the vision in my right eye was distracting, kind of like being in a very bright light and then walking into a room -- purplish with light refractory going on.  I blinked and it didn't go away and about an hour later is still there.  This light in my vision can be described almost like an open circle of refracted light in my vision path, like a floating aroura borialis or light shining through a quartz crystal.  It is not painful but it is annoying.  Is this something to worry about?
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233488_tn?1310696703
Hello, yes this 'scintillating scotoma' (shimmering blind spot) will require investigation. Physicians speak of 'Differential Diagnosis' that means a list of diseases that can cause a certain symptom.  The problem you describe can be caused by a number of things the most common relatively not serious but a few may be due to things that are serious.

If you are a relatively healthy young or middle aged person, especially if female and on birth control pills, hormones or are pregnant or have a family history of migraine the problem most often is 'eye migraines' or 'ophthalmic migraine'. Eye migraines have mainly visual symptoms and often are not accompanied by headaches or there may be only a minor headaches. Eye migraines are more common in people that have had 'classic' migraine when they were younger and in 'migraine families'. They can be infrequent in which no treatment is necessary or occur so often that medications are used to prevent them.

Eye migraine is diagnosed after excluding other more serious problems: There are a few problems in the eye related to small clots (emboli) or blockage of the arteries and veins that might cause this. You need to make an appointment for a comprehensive medical eye examination by an ophthalmologist (Eye MD).

In people in their 50's thru 80's, problems with the heart, blood vessels, brain (tumors, abnormal blood vessels, atypical seizure disorders) need to be ruled out. These problems are more common in smokers, diabetics, hypertensives (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, family history of neurological and cardio-vascular disease.

To summarize statistically it was likely an eye migraine but you need a good physical examination by your personal physician and to see an ophthalmologist in the near future.

JCH MD
6 Comments
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I've had the exact symptoms that you described (like a floating aroura borealis).  This is very scary, but not painful.  I had a brain anurism fixed last year and have a small one that is being monitored so I naturally assumed that the symptoms with my vision were related to the anurisms.  My neurosurgeon said that they are not at all related.  I had these symptoms again this evening sort of like described earlier as circles of refracted light in my field of vision.  I'm a near-sighted 54 year-old women.  I guess I'm off to the eye doctor.  
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This sounds like occipital migraine.  You can help confirm it by seeing if the same phenomenon is seen in both eyes at the same time in the same place.  Most bad things causing flahing of lights will occur in one eye only.  But, you say, you don't have a headache! How could this be migraine?  Medically migraine is a spasm of a blood vessel leading to the head.  If the vessel in spasm  leads to an area causing pain, you get the famous headache.  But, it the vessel leads to the occipital lobe, which is the visual information processing part of the brain, you get the type of visual pattern you describe in your question.  Most occipital migraines occur 1-3 times in a person's lifetime, last 5 minutes to up to 2 hours, and go away  with no damage or functional change.  They do not come from anything pathologic (you don't need a brain scan for instance) and do not need treatment.  So, enjoy the light show and don't worry (if in both of your eyes).  If clearly in one eye only, then see an ophthalmologist for further diagnosis.     Richard Bensinger, MD in Seattle
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Thanks everyone for the comments and recommendations.  When the nice pretty lights occurred, I had been experiencing a headache for nearly 2 days.  I wasn't as bad as a migrane (migraine) but it was getting close.  Finally, the headache went away and then the vision thing occurred.  I do have high blood pressure and am due for a check-up, so I will mention this occurrance to my Dr.
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Dr. Bensinger, very interestng what you say about these occipital (? I always thought ocular/ophthalmic) migraines occurring 1-3 times in a person's life. I had three of them within six months--when I hit perimenopause hard--and never had one again. The first two were a month apart and the third, which was exactly the same shimmery-cut-glass block C shape, was in COLOR and came several months later. I always wondered if the third one was in color because it started at night, when I had my eyes closed waiting to fall asleep.

My WHOLE family has migraines with aura--mother, aunt, at least 3 of my 4 siblings, both my kids. Still, I had never heard the aura described and panicked when I had my first one at age 42--not knowing I was a migraineur. Called the doctor's office in a panic thinking I was having a stroke! The doctor told me what it was but referred me to an ophthalmologist anyway, who of course found nothing.

I did have frequent mild headaches in high school or so, but never told anyone, as I thought everyone had headaches.

Motion sickness tends to be a problem in migraine families too. I remember my mother feeding us all Dramamine tablets in spoonfuls of jam before any car trip. In college I worked two half-days in a cannery--went home sick at noon the first day, came back two days later loaded up with Dramamine, but was throwing up in the cannery gutter by 10:00 a.m. Couldn't stand the motion of belts in front of me! Developed low-level constant dizziness in the late 80s, worsened in 1999, and only in the past year have I felt halfway normal again, although the neurologist-dizziness specialist did not think this was migraine.

Migraines are WEIRD, weird things. During my son's migraine period (after puberty), he told me about numb/tingliness moving from his fingers up his arm, alternate weeks from when he had a headache. I thought he was imagining things until I read about the "marching" numbness being a migraine symptom.

Nancy T.
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I too have been getting these "light shows"(about 2-3) per year for about 13 years now. I am a 36 yr old female. Only recently have I started having migraines with headache pain and other symptoms such as tingly legs and arms, neck pain and strange pressure feeling in my head. Have had 2 MRIS and numerous CT scans- all normal. Doc says migraines and sending me to Neurologist. The lights are still scary as you never know when they are going to happen but I think after having the "real deal" now- I'll take those lights anyday!
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I have had the same symptoms, I think.  I'm a 49 year-old white male with no known family history of migraines.  The only medication I take is 1 Prilosec pill a day for acid reflux.  I did have 2 epidural injections just before the latest episodes occurred.  I would describe what I see as coronas.  Like seeing the sun behind the mood during an eclipse.  The lights are pointed and shimmer and seem to be blue and silver and gold.  It is always in the same spot and ave visible in both eyes open or shut.  It's sometimes it's an entire circle and sometimes like a C.  I had the first 1 in the late 80's and it lasted about an hour.  I was sitting at my desk at work at a sales job.  I was about 32.

It happened couple times around that time, but then it stopped until recently when it's lasted about 15 minutes and it's occurred about 3-4 times in a 2 week period.

I would be relieved if it was the harmless non-headache migraine.

If someone thinks otherwise, I would be interested in your thoughts and opinions.  Thanks
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