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Eye and Vision Care

Seeing Red Spot When Lights Are Off

04/28/2010

Question:

My 85 year old friend says that when she goes to bed and looks up at her white ceiling, she sees a spot--sometimes red or sometimes more of a purple color. She has had cataract surgery and her ophthalmologist has stated he has never heard of this. What is happening?

Answer:

I have had many older patients describe seeing images on the blank ceiling, especially upon awakening in the morning.  My impression is that these images are usually caused by abnormalities of the retina or vitreous.  This could be due to early or advanced damage caused by macular degeneration or some other retina condition.  It could also be caused by changes in the density and positioning of the vitreous gel which fills much of the eye. 

The retina and vitreous would have been examined as part of a full eye examination.  Perhaps your friend has some retinal or vitreous changes. 

It is interesting to consider why it might be that a person would only see such images when looking at a white ceiling.  I think that the absence of other objects in the field of vision is part of it.  That is, the images are not masked by other things that are seen.  Also, when a person first wakes up in the morning, he or she is not yet "used to" any small defects in the vision.  Over the course of minutes upon wakening, the person becomes accustomed to the defects once again, and they are not noticed.

Bottom line:  The fact that she sees the red or purple images on the ceiling should not be worrisome, unless it were to increase substantially in size or frequency and vision were to change in either eye.  If that were to happen, she should be re-examined.  On the other hand, if this is a stable observation, she has had a full eye examination, and her vision has not deteriorated in either eye (which must be checked by covering the opposite eye), she should not be concerned.

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Response by:

Roanne   Flom, OD Roanne Flom, OD
Professor of Clinical Optometry
College of Optometry
The Ohio State University