Hitting the gym or heading outdoors for a jog can trigger all sorts of physical responses that boost your health and make you feel fabulous. However, seeing stars while working out or immediately after you finish is a response to exercise you should not ignore.
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"Seeing stars while working out or after exercise is a common phenomenon," says Douglas P. Jeffrey, MD, a family medicine specialist in Eugene, Oregon. The stars you see are called phosphenes, which he says are usually due to a temporary problem with low blood pressure following exercise.
At times, Dr. Jeffrey says, seeing stars or spots may also be due to low blood sugar or decreased oxygen level to the eye cells. His advice: "Rest, move slowly and sit until the spots resolve."
Also, if you're not hydrated, get something to drink, preferably a drink with electrolytes. And if you skipped your pre-workout snack or meal, now's the time to fuel up with some protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Purvi Parwani, MD, director of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Loma Linda University International Heart Institute in California, says that, most often, seeing stars while working out can be attributed to a shifting of blood away from the brain. "In a patient with high blood pressure, any increases in blood pressure can lead to such symptoms," she says.
Also, if you experience any type of trauma during exercise, particularly a concussion, the impact can cause you to see spots after exercise, Dr. Parwani says.
Stars and Your Eyes
Also described as spots, sparkles or flashes of light, these "stars" you're seeing could be a red flag that something more serious, but not as obvious, is going on.
Uveitis, which describes several inflammatory diseases that impact eye tissue, can cause you to see spots or floaters, according to the National Eye Institute. Some of the diseases associated with uveitis include arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis, the Institute says. It can also stem from problems occurring in the eye, so seeing your doctor, along with an ophthalmologist, is key to determining why you see spots after exercise.
Problems can also occur if you have low blood pressure, called hypotension. One condition under the umbrella of hypotension is orthostatic hypotension, which is a sudden fall in blood pressure that happens when you stand up, the Cleveland Clinic says. While the primary symptom is feeling dizzy upon standing, blurred vision can be another symptom. If you're exercising in a seated position, this is something to be aware of.
Seeing stars while working out could also occur when the vitreous gel-like substance in your eye rubs or pulls on your retina, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. This is more common as you age.
When to Seek Medical Care
While seeing an occasional star or spot during or after physical activity is not generally cause for concern, Dr. Parwani says that deciding when to seek medical care depends on what other health problems you might have.
For instance, "if you have high or low blood pressure, or diabetes, and the spots or stars are related to those conditions, you should seek medical attention," she says.
Dr. Parwani also stresses the importance of seeking immediate medical attention if you experience trauma during exercise that results in seeing spots in front of your eyes. This can occur from a blow to the head, resulting in a concussion.
Finally, Dr. Jeffrey says that if the phosphenes or dizziness do not disappear within minutes of sitting, resting or lying down, it's wise to seek medical attention. And if seeing phosphenes is a regular occurrence, whether exercising or not, it's best to consult your physician.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Flashes of Light”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Orthostatic Hypotension”
- Douglas P. Jeffrey, MD, family medicine specialist, Eugene, Oregon
- National Eye Institute: “Uveitis”
- Purvi Parwani, MD, director, Women's Heart Clinic, Loma Linda University International Heart Institute, Loma Linda, California
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.