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Seeing Sparkles in Vision: White Flashes with Eyes Open

Ever since I was young — and I’m 40, now — I’ve had the experience every few months of having a half-hour period of seeing sparkles in my vision with my eyes open: white spots like the after-image of someone taking a photo with a flash bulb, or having briefly looked at the sun.

I’m writing this article now to share the information that I wish someone had given me about this phenomenon years ago in order to help understand what is happening in these moments, and why! If you’re having this same experience, I hope this post will provide solidarity, and (no pun intended) illumination.

Seeing sparkles in vision: flashes of white spots.
What the world looks like to me when I see white spots.

Seeing Sparkles in Vision

My first vivid memory of having this vision disturbance was when I was in middle school. First, I see tiny little sparkles in the center of my sight. I know something is going on. The white splotches grow larger and begin to obscure my field of vision in patches. The sparkles have a bright silver quality to them, and the plane of vision behind them becomes slightly blackened. Above, I’ve used my digital drawing tablet to try to illustrate what the experience looks like.

Though it’s possible to somewhat see during this phenomenon, the white spots obscure enough patches of sight (kind of like a “head rush” from standing up too fast) so that doing anything becomes extremely difficult until the sparkly patches start fade away again — usually within 30 minutes, gradually. Closing the eyes or going to a dark room away from stress and bustle seems to help.

Problems with Vision Disturbances

As you can imagine, having your vision blocked like this can cause problems. I remember being in college, working my cash register job at Au Bon Pain, when suddenly the white sparkles began to appear. I tried my best to keep finding and pushing the correct buttons to ring out customers’ croissants… but eventually it became so difficult to see that I had to holler for a colleague to come take over.

Another time this vision disturbance occurred, I was driving up a highway through Cape Cod. Slowly, I started to see the white spots building. I internally screamed, “Oh no! Oh no!” as my vision began to diminish, like a gathering cloud obscuring the sun. Luckily, I was able to pull over to the side of the road before it got untenable, and was able to wait safely until the flashes passed.

Trying to read text while the sparkly spots are happening is particularly frustrating. My drawing below simulates how you can ALMOST see the letters with this vision disturbance, but because the splotches are moving around, ultimately reading becomes a futile endeavor. The only thing there is to do is wait until the episode passes.

Seeing sparkles in vision
Seeing sparkles in vision makes reading text difficult.

What IS this Sparkly Light We’re Seeing?

Time for the big reveal about what the heck these white spots are! It wasn’t until I’d been experiencing these vision disturbances for over a decade that I finally learned what they are: visual migraines or migraines with aura: a form of the infamous brand of headaches, migraines, except (in my case) with very little actual head pain. In the clever wordsmithing of my friend Steve who also gets these, they are EYE-graines!

In other words, as long as your experience is within the parameters described in those links above written by knowledgeable brain people, this strange phenomenon is as relatively harmless as a migraine headache — just annoying. According to the Mayo Clinic, “There is evidence that the migraine aura is due to an electrical or chemical wave that moves across the brain.” That’s kind of excitingly dramatic!

Note that visual migraines are different from ocular migraines — the latter of which is more worrisome, and is distinguished by being present in just one eye rather than both. If you’re concerned, do see a medical professional, and be alert for the warning signs to watch for (explained in those links in the first paragraph of this section). The good news is that once you identify what triggers “eyegraines,” they can be manageable to minimize. Let’s explore how.

Which Triggers Cause Seeing White Spots?

Over the years, I’ve been able to identify what causes this experience of seeing sparkles in vision, and cut out enough of the triggers that I only experience “eyegraines” two to three times a year now — way down from when they were happening more than once a month.

Things that cause this vision disturbance for me like clockwork are: lack of sleep, caffeine, and very high stress. (This is one of many reasons I quit drinking coffee.) Rarely but sometimes, my “eyegraines” are triggered by looking at a bright light which mimics the effect (ex: sunlight beaming off a car hood).

In general, taking good care of your body (drinking water, eating well, staying regular, exercising, getting outside, and avoiding noxious smells and chemicals) will all help ward off “eyegraines.” Moreover, there are further treatments and even medications to explore if these more low-tech options aren’t sufficing.

Vision disturbances can be frustrating!
Vision disturbances can be frustrating!

Seeing Flashes with Eyes Open vs. Closed

As I’ve written extensively about seeing colors during meditation (and even seeing white light during energy work associated with chakra colors), I want to clarify that those previous articles are about the PLEASANT experience of seeing colors and lights showing with the eyes CLOSED. In contrast, the “eyegraine” phenomenon this article covers is a less enjoyable — and certainly more inconvenient — phenomenon, and occurs with the eyes OPEN.

That said, in some interpretations, “eyegraines” do have a spiritual interpretation — one that you’re welcome to consider or discard, as moves you. One year when I was getting a particularly frequent amount of them, someone shared with me that this experience of seeing sparkles in vision indicates a life shift, or celestial messages arriving to invite change.

While there’s little way to verify the veracity of this theory (especially since life is ALWAYS shifting), I find it somewhat comforting, when in the throes of an annoying “eyegraine,” to think of it as a message from the universe… though maybe that message is simply to slow down!

Seeing Sparkles in Vision, in Sum

If you’ve experienced a visual migraine, migraine with aura, or “eyegraine,” what has been your experience? What has triggered it or eased it? Do share!

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