Why do we see blotches after looking at lights?

13 March 2011

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Question

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?

Answer

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...]

Comments

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?

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

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.

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.

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!

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

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?

when i look into bright light such as light bulb or flash lights..etc i seeing the shape of the object(light bulb) in reddish yellow sometimes in green color .if i look into sun i see reddish yellow round shape these shapes are longer for 1 or 2 minutes. i also have floatres in my vision and have litle blur vision and ima using specs .

When ever I happen to look into a bright light by accident like my desk lamp or even the break lights from cars, its like it gets burned into my retina really quickly and its like i see splotches, usually like a royal blue. it only last for maximum a few minutes. I just turned 20 and this has been happening for a few years. I just went to the ophthalmologist a few months ago for a scratched cornea. I didn't mention anything about the splotches but he looked directly into my eyes and did a thorough exam and he said everything looks great. would he have noticed if anything was wrong at the time? should i be worried? I have severe hypochondriac anxiety.

You shouldn't worry about that because your retina regenerates. So, after some time those splotches disappear and your eye is back to normal-ish.
But still, try to avoid looking directly into bright lights because long exposure can lead to permanent damage.

With regard to this comment above:

"You shouldn't worry about that because your retina regenerates."

This is totally wrong. In some animals the retina can regenerate, but not in us. If you damage your retina the injury will be permanent. This is why people develop sight-loss disorders like macular degeneration.

Scientists are actively pursuing techniques for the use of stem cells to regenerate retinal structures, but this process does not have spontaneously.

Please be careful with your eyes...

My brother got a laser pointer for his birthday and shone it in my eyes >:( Most of the dark areas faded within 30 mins, but 14 hours later there are still 3 little dots I can see in my right eye. they are a pale grey colour and are opaque. the apear 4mm(s) in diameter (each) at 1m away. Should I be concerned or just wait a little longer?
Yours Sincerely,
Fred H.

Persistent blind spots 14h after the laser exposure is worrying; I think you should seek specialist advice.

This only happens at night. If I'm driving and an emergency vehicle passes with their lights (blue, white, red) I see neon purple when I look away. It's always a bright purple and it last for a while. Obviously I need to get an exam, but I'm nervous. And no, I don't use drugs if that crossed anyone's mind, haha.

My eye sight is seeing blotches of spots and seeing things that arent really there and faces in the clouds is that due to the sun when it comes out and its so bright that it knows where to know where im at its always looking for me or at me i look bk at it i think it messed up my retnia can u help

I was making a video and used the selfi mode to video my face and such. I did not realise that doing this triggered the flashlight feature, I looked away and turned it off. I then tested out with settings and used selfie mode again, aimed away from my eyes. I'd say that I probably only looked for a few seconds and certainly looked away via blink reflex. Scouring the internet hearing about LED eye damage, quite scared. I did see a darkish line for a moment that then dussapeared, my eyes feel slightly uncomfortable and watery. However as far as I can tell, my eyes are okay. I notice slight blueishness when looking around, but I think that is more of an afterimage effect fromy my phone screen. I should note that I suffer with extreme ocd, particularly about vision, so a prompt reply would be extremely appreciated.

It seems pretty fine, just a result of an accident. But I would still recommend seeing an eye doctor, one you can get to a little quicker, if the problems persist. Even if your eyes feel just a little uncomfortable afterward, let’s say more than 12 hours later, then please go see a specialist.

I know this has nothing to do with the blotches of light, but if I move my eye to the corner, it moves itself across it until the middle

for some reason,i always see pixels and this has been going on for years. as in barely noticeable slightly dimmed teeny tiny circles.And when i look at one of my walls from far away my eyes just see well,the wall.But when i get close up it sees the tiny little circle hills. should i get glasses?

I have this as well. For me it is something that I've noticed people have a hard time believing when you explain it to them. Most doctors aren't even aware of it because it is rare. Its a condition called visual snow or visual static. I'm no expert on the subject but from what I've read there isn't a lot in terms of scientific explanation. I find it interesting that they would go away the closer you get to a wall. for me they basically stay the same. I haven't looked all over for info but clearly from the bit of research I've done (really just googling) there isn't too much research on it. People who have this condition usually have migraines as well but those don't happen to me more then maybe twice a year. Wikipedia has some useful info as well. hope this helps.

If I look at a light or something for a few seconds I see dots of green. Why is that?

That's weird it's the same for me

how Long is it supposed to last when you see blotches

Is it normal to see dots when looking at bright lights or car lights at night and how to prevent it. Do you think sunglasses will help with cardboard stuck at the side or is there something i can get to help this problem.

I was washing an eyelash out of my eye and I rub my alot I also was shining a flashlight in my eye to make sure it was out of my eye.
Now I see slight dark spots my eyes are open and White Lines when my eyes are closed; how long will this last? It's been about 5 it's also 3 in the morning should I go to a doctor am I okay?

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