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Why Do I See Stars When I Cough? – See Why

Why Do I See Stars When I Cough

If you’re tired of seeing stars when you cough? These may be typically harmless.

Flashes of light in your vision are known as photopsia.

It is a phenomenon that arises because of the stimulation of certain nerves in your eyes and brain, mostly because of pressure.

This visual change occurs in various forms, such as seeing sparks, floaters, bright dots, flickers, streaks of lights, and an array of colors that come suddenly and go away on their own.

However, if you experience them more often than not, go for an immediate medical checkup.

What To Know About Flashes Of Light In Your Vision

Streaks or specks of light in your vision can happen for several reasons.

Although seeing stars sometimes may not be a cause for alarm, it can, however, also signal the onset of an underlying problem with your eye, vision, or medical health.

Most individuals describe this condition as being associated with sneezing, coughing, when they rub their eyes, or after staying in the sun or somewhere bright for some time.

The feeling is akin to symptoms of flashing lights, sparks, stars, and colorful rings.

This phenomenon is medically known as photopsia, a visual disturbance that affects your eyes and vision.

It occurs because of physical pressure on your eyes, for example, when rubbing your eyes or during a hard sneeze. This can either happen frequently or for an extended period.

Photopsia arises when the retina is stimulated by artificial light, called phosphenes.

They occur when certain nerves in the eyes or brain are stimulated. This is due to one key factor which is pressure on the eyes.

Various reasons for this occurrence include sneezing, rubbing your eyes, physical trauma like a blow to the head, health issues such as low blood pressure, eye injury, migraines, diseases of the eye and brain.

Although photopsia is not always a cause of worry, however, contact your physician if you experience debilitating symptoms.

What Is Photopsia?

Photopsia is a symptom of various health issues and the effects of certain lifestyle activities.

It is best described in various forms, like seeing sparks, bright dots, sparklers, flickers, eye flashes, and a sudden array of colors in light flashes.

These are mostly harmless and will subside on their own or signal a health issue that requires immediate medical attention.

Causes Of Flashes Of Light In Your Vision

Streaks of light in your vision can occur from different factors. Most times, they are usually mild and relatively harmless.

These illusions of light occur because of pressure on your eyes and the impact of some actions. Causes of this condition include;


Pressure from an injury, physical impact or blow, and disease in your eyes and brain can trigger photopsia.

This type of phosphenes mostly lasts a few seconds and subsides on its own.

For example, you might see streaks of light that spark almost immediately when you rub your eyes, strain, vomit, cough, or sneeze.

Other reasons for pressure-related phosphenes are infections, inflammation, tumor, abnormalities of the blood vessel, and thyroid disease.

Retina Disorders

The retina is a membrane of the eye that covers the back wall of the eyeball; it is connected to the optic nerves and is very sensitive to light.

Retina disorders such as retinal detachments can trigger flashes of light, stars, or bands.

Associated symptoms are streaks of light in one or both eyes, a dark shadow-like curtain obstructing a part of your view, presence of increased floaters.

Floaters are small dark spots or lines that float around your line of vision or view.

Symptoms of retinal detachment come and heal quickly.

It can easily become debilitating with damaging effects like blindness if it not treated properly or on time.


Migraines are headaches that may sometimes have symptoms of visual changes in one or both eyes.

This symptom is known as aura and lasts for about 20 – 30 minutes before going away on its own.

They may appear like blind spots, prismatic colors similar to that of a rainbow, flashes of light, stars, and zigzag lines.

Symptoms may sometimes occur without headaches, just like cases of ocular migraines.

Visual Impairment In The Brain

This is a rare case of phosphenes that arises because of a dysfunction of visual functions in the brain.

Often caused by conditions characterized by a lack of blood flow or damage to the brain, for example, cardiovascular disease or orthostatic hypotension.

When there is a drop in the flow of blood regardless of the duration and occurrence.

It can briefly affect your brain functions, leading to flashes of light and similar symptoms for a short while.

How Is Photopsia Associated With Coughing

Photopsia is mostly caused by pressure on the retina membrane of your eyes and is prevalent in actions like sneezing, coughing, and rubbing your eyes.

Phosphenes are streaks of light that occur in your line of vision when performing activities that put pressure on your eyes.

Not all coughs are characterized by these specks, or light or floaters. Some people have coughs not related to photopsia.

However, coughs that are usually symptoms of medication conditions associated with this phenomenon of flashes of light are more likely to occur with phosphenes.

When Is Photopsia Harmless Or Severe

Although most phosphenes are harmless, it is best you can differentiate when it is nothing to worry about and when to seek immediate medical treatment. It is harmless in;

Coughing or sneezing

Coughing or sneezing with your eyes shut can trigger stars or flashes of light. This type of phosphene is often harmless and goes away immediately after the action.

Rubbing your eyes

This is one of the most common causes of flashes of light for every individual of all ages and gender experience.

It happens because of the stimulation of some eye cells while applying pressure to your eyes.

In cases like this, phosphenes are mostly temporary and will subside almost immediately.

MRI Scans

Magnetic resonance imaging can trigger a flash of light because of its stimulation of your visual cortex.

During the process of MRI’s, your body’s magnetic field is changed, making you wary and disoriented at first.

This is only temporary and clears as soon as your eyes get accustomed back to their normal environment.

EGG Testing

EGG testing is also a temporary occurrence for phosphenes. It creates starlike visual effects by stimulating your retina.

The procedures of EGG testing focuses on the brain by stimulating it, which then affects your retina and produces flashes of light.

Severe cases are;


This is a sudden physical impact that affects your brain and your eyes.

Depending on the intensity of the impact, accidents like this can lead to serious problems like loss of memory, coma, besides streaks of light and floating.

Injuries like this should be treated immediately to avoid further complications.


Diabetes is associated with blood sugar levels.

The blood vessels in the retina can easily become damaged from high blood sugar and result in visual changes with sparks of light.


Medications like anti-malaria drugs that contain chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine can have side effects, including lightheadedness, dizziness, and seeing stars.


Some women may experience pregnancy symptoms with high blood pressure.

This is usually a risky situation that can affect both the expectant mother and the unborn baby.

It could lead to liver failure, headaches, decreased blood flow to the placenta, inadequate nourishment, and oxygen for the unborn baby.

Treatment And Prevention Of Seeing Flashes Of Light

Not all flashes of light in your vision require treatment.

Some are really nothing to about and will go away almost immediately or after a while.

But to determine this, you may have to still visit your physician for a diagnosis rather than focus on your speculations alone.

Treatment mostly includes rest and the use of medications for symptoms of flashes of light associated with concussions and physical impact.

Only prescribed pain relievers are recommended to avoid aggravating the symptoms.

Afterward, you will be required to avoid bright lights, TVs, Video games, and heavy activities that may cause straining and high mental concentration.

Surgery is a complicated process required only in serious cases like that of a retina tear or detached retina. 

A follow-up is usually arranged to ensure complete healing.


You can prevent these phosphenes by taking several precautionary measures for your eyes. This includes:

  • Going for regular eye check up
  • Take eye supplements
  • Sunglasses or prescribed glasses in situations where your eyes are exposed to bright lights or the sun.
  • Eating healthily and exercising
  • Treating eye disorders immediately

Occasional flashes of light may not be an issue to fret over.

However, go for a diagnosis and treatment if you notice they are accompanied by severe symptoms that affect your daily routine.


Healthline: What Causes Someone To See Stars In Their Vision

Verywell Mind: Why You Might Be Seeing Stars

WebMD: What To Know About Seeing Stars In Your Vision

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