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What is photopsia?

Laura C. Fine, MD
Ophthalmology
Seeing shooting stars -- a phenomenon called photopsia -- is not unusual as people age. Solitary flashes appear as sparks or minuscule strands of light, almost like streaks of lightning across the sky. They occur when the vitreous gel bumps, rubs, or tugs against the retina (the innermost layer of the eye). Generally harmless, they require no treatment. In rare cases, they may be a sign of more severe retinal complications. If their appearance is sudden or accompanied by a shower of floaters or a loss of peripheral vision, see your ophthalmologist. Photopsia differs from the flashing or zigzag lights that may precede migraine headache, which some people experience simultaneously in both eyes, typically for as long as 20 minutes, but sometimes for an hour or even longer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.