Why do we see blotches after looking at lights?

13 March 2011



Why is it that when you look into any type of light for a long period of time that blotches of black appear when you look away?


Sarah - Well this is very similar to the effect that you get when you're standing there at a party and someone takes a photo, and you get those spots in front of your eyes from the flashes and you just can't see anything.

It's because of something called photo-bleaching and it happens to the cells in your retina which is the light sensitive bit at the back of your eye. It's populated with cells called rods and cones, and these are full of light sensitive pigments.

Normally you get light as particles called photons coming into your eye; these stimulate the cells by changing this light sensitive pigment, which is called retinal, into a slightly different form and they stimulate the cells to send electrical impulses to your brain.

But, if you get a really bright light - like a flash or if you look at the sun for a long time or even just a really bright light bulb - this sends the cells into overdrive and they get really overexcited, and it takes them a little while to calm down. So then when you look at a normal level of light, like a wall, you get these kind of black spots where you've been looking at light where the cells have been over stimulated.

Chris - So, you have lost the photo pigment in that particular area temporarily because it's been broken down by the photons of light hitting it, and when it regenerates, it comes back then you see normal again, but while it's regenerating up the pigment because of the overexposure, you see a less intense spot, so you therefore see a dark spot. It's worth noting actually that the retina is less active when light shines on it than in the dark. It's in fact deactivated by light rather than activated by light. It's rather paradoxical, isn't it?

[Note added in proof - you should never look directly at the Sun. The lens in your eye focuses light onto the retina in the same way that a magnifying glass can focus the Sun's rays to a spot and cause things to burn. You can burn a hole in your retina leading to permanent sight loss...]


So, I don't know if this has anything to do with being anemic or what, but after i look at a light bulb, I look at a wall for example, and there's the blotch. Its yellow at first, then turns black. I put my hand by it and it follows my hand. But how and why?

It's called clearvision

If you move your eye, the changed part of your eye is moving too. Its logical.

when i loook at lights i see lines coming out of them long line short like 9 lines for one light bulb please some one tell me what i have so you can help me this is not a joke i swear

Photo-bleaching doesn't happen to my daughter! I was talking about this to my daughter and she said "What? You're crazy seeing things." We did some tests and she says she sees no colored spots. Nothing weird from flash. Is this normal? Why doesn't she?

If you have learned anything further about this please let me know!

i have this photo bleaching spot that has been in the vision of my left eye for weeks now.. shaped like a popcorn kernal.. like after looking at a flash of light.. dark when seeing, negative effect when eyes closed.. just odd that it's been there for weeks.. normally this reaction to light fades.. hmm

i have the same thing but ive only had it for 15 minutes

My mom is experiencing this as well. The bright spots last for 15 to 30 minutes. It’s happened four times to her now and they are not triggered by looking into light. She’s really worried so I’m trying to research. If anyone can answer, I’d really appreciate it. Thank you kindly.

Hi, has your mom found any answers as i am having this too currently.

have a eye doctor look at your eye any time there's unusual spots or flashes many ey problems can be treated if caught early.

I have photo bleaching type spots that seem permanent and no longer related to a recent light exposure. One commenter said theirs was the shape of a popcorn kernel. Mine has a similar appearance, but a point on one side. The strange thing is that it comes and goes and doesn’t seem to be related to any visual stimuli except that when I am in bright daylight, it’s black with a kind of silver or rainbow outline. Also, sometimes I get a “mirror image” of it, possibly dependent on right/left hemispheric brain activity?

Hi. Is it normal ? When i close my eyes . I can see like purple dots. And sometimes when my eyes open suddenly i see purple dots also. Suddenly comes out but also disappear.

When I close my eyes I see like a very bright purple dot and then when I open my eyes the purple dot moves around them I move my eyes. The purple dot changes colors sometimes. Sometimes it’s red or green or blue or yellow or purple or black. Is this normal?

Same is it dangerous or going blind??

Also it’s not just pink. It’s any bright colour such as yellow,green,blue. When It’s night I would see little stars and when I stand up I would see a big batch of purple and stars. I’m very scared . Is this normal I’m only 12 turning 13

This sort of phenomenon is normal; the sparkly lights you see are entoptic phenomena and common under low-light conditions. If you see white speckles during the daytime, that's normal too - it's white blood cells moving through the capillary beds at the back of the eye.

Now, I don't think this is the right time to (coronavirus), but go and see a General Practice, they might give you in-depth explanation.

Get Well Soon!

If you close your eyes and focus on it hard enough, you can form a really good image.

When I look at an object or a person I would see an outline of the object or person. Also every time I look at the colour pink, I would see green or blue. Sometimes when I close my eyes I would see a little bit of purple. I went to the doctor last year they said nothing was wrong but I am still concerned. This started when I was 11 going on 12, and now I am almost 13 is this normal? Someone please help!.

Don’t worry this is normal! Our brain starts to adjust to sensory input after we’ve been getting the same signal for a while (eg when you stop smelling a bad smell after a while even though the smell is still there) but when that signal changes (like when you switch what color you’re looking at from pink to white) the brain has to readjust to a different input for a few seconds (so you see green on top of white for a little bit). Totally normal :) It’s scientific name is “physiological afterimage” and it’s behind some cool optical illusions. You can read about them here: http://mesosyn.com/mental8-15.html

I have the same things your experiencing. Whenever I look at someone or something I see an outline of them made of an aura or light I’ve also been seeing a lot of floaters and splotches of light in my vision. I don’t know if this is normal but i will be seeing a specialist in a few weeks. This started 2 months ago when I was diagnosed with MDD and GAD.

Hi, just wondering if you got any answers? I am having similar problems since my anxiety became out of control in May. Then I had someone tell me eye problems can indicate something more sinister so I obsess over that 24/7. My eyes are my biggest trigger and I’m experiencing the same thing you posted. I’m deathly afraid to go to the eye doctor. I’ve never had anything like this before this anxiety started. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the specialist and honestly just ignored it, it has slowly faded away and my vision is restoring back to normal, my anxiety and depression are almost gone too, I stopped living an unhealthy life and made sure everything I did was beneficial to me. I’ve also been taking high strength fish oil paired with magnesium since this began a few months back, I definitely think the fish oil had a big impact on my vision, depression and anxiety. Best of luck to you.

Any update and what kind of fish oil are you using the gnc brand did it go away

Hi I have really bad issues with anxiety too. Have done since I was 12 i am now 32 recently (before lockdown) before Christmas my anxiety has gotten completely out of control. My balance goes very often my eyes play up all the time. I see all sorts of things. I only have to look at my phone screen for a couple of seconds and I can see the light when I look away. I suffered from epilepsy when I was 12 out of the blue. Only had 3 seizures all spaces quite a few months apart havent had one since being 15 but it left me with this feeling of major anxiety. I see so many colours and floating squiggly lines in my vision all day everyday. Im worried I may have a brain tumor or maybe some sort of injury I've took some knocks to the head in my time. Just think its finally caught up with me

Haven't eaten in a few days, and I'm noticing that nearly every light I see (no, I'm not looking directly at them for any prolonged period of time) causes the eye-splotches. I was just wondering why this is.

Is it just that my cells don't have the energy they really want, so they're operating on low energy, and take less to shut off as a result or what?

The same thing is happening to me, kind of driving me crazy. I'd like to know what the cause is as well.

Can anyone help me I got a blotch and now it won't go away can anyone tell me why.

I too have blotches that won't go away. It is a rather large blotch and it is shaped like several lines,very strange. I too would like to know why.

It might be from sunlight or eyes your eyes adjusting to something. Check it out with a doctor to make sure it doesn’t go to something serious. x

I was using my phones light too take this thing out of my eye then for some reason i decided too look straight into the light, after somehow it runed off i saw a big black dot in my eye blocking my vision, i waited for 3 min then the black dot got off but every time i want too see something with my Right eye, the color of my vision is brwnish, would it take off later? Or what should i do?

your not the only one. whenever i see other lights and flashes i see big colours like rainbow it irritates my vision i’ve had this for 14 years your not alone because same as well

I pray to God and my husband's spirit while in the sunlight, close my eyes and open them
again, I see blue orbs. Is that just from the sunlight and not my husband's spirit? He passed recently and I feel his guidance and love, his spirit protecting us.
Thank you

Damn, you're probably just crazy.

And you're probably just an a*hole

You can't see spirits mate.

No it's just your white blood cells you see.

I look at my light bulb and I start to see it switch to blue, and I closed my eyes and I see the image of the light bulb and it changes color from blue to lime green and the to purple and a thin layer of each color that was shown already. It's very vivid and maybe I just have a good imagination.

this happened to me, and it is nothing to worry about. just try not to stare at the light to long, i know the colors get really annoying after a bit, but they disappear within 10 minutes.

is this a condition or does everyone have this

So I looked at the light bulb for like 45 seconds because I was saying my prayers and got distracted and there are blotches that i see and they usually go away by now but they've been going on for like 3 minutes is it normal, I'm only 12

You need to calm tf down

Yes, that is generally normal as I had them on my eyes for about 5-7 minutes before and just now had them on my eyes for about 4 and to help get rid of them I just read an article on my phone until they disappeared.

Me and my friends were playing outside in the dark with flashlights. One of them shined a light into my eye for 20 sec. at most. I have bad anxiety lol... so im worried i might have damaged my eyes permanently. This flashlight was one of those red BRIGHT LED lights. Should i be worried ab vision loss???

Do you have headaches still now over a week later or a hard time seeing?
I’m anxious too haha

After looking at the direct above sun for less than 3 mins, I see a gray ball when looking direct to my text and even when looking direct to someone. Like can’t get my center view clearly ! Why is that? Are those images in my mind that reflects in my seeing? Pls help out !!!

This has nothing to do with your mind. You need to see an ophthalmologist. Staring at the sun can damage the retina (the inside, back part of your eye). The macula is where our center vision is focused (like people with macular degeneration see what you see, obstruction RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of their vision) you don’t have macular degeneration, but the same part of your eye was probably damaged.

Well you burn your eye while looking at the sun

Recently I have been suffering with a significant increase in aura type migraines, ordinarily I would have them once or twice a year but lately I have been experiencing them 2-3 times per week. I have been considering what the triggers might be but as yet I've been unable to conclude on any one cause. So far I have seen my GP, optometrist and had a brain MRI - all inconclusive. During the increased occurrences I have noticed I have become more sensitive to light and would not eliminate this from being part of, or the root, cause. Are there any further tests that could be undertaken to consider whether this sensitivity may be a catalyst and potentially any previous cases of this?

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