MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Why do people 'see stars', in general?

Date: Tue Sep 22 10:02:14 1998
Posted By: James Clack, Faculty, Biology, Indian Univ - Purdue Univ
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 903825138.Ns

I assume that you are refering to what happens when someone receives a 
blow to the head (or to the body!) and sees something that really doesn't 
exist.  In physiological parlance, this is known as an "inadequate 
stimulus."  This means that the neurons that would normally signal the 
presence of an image (or little stars, in this case) have somehow been 
abnormally stimulated.  This is not hard to do.  In fact, you can 
artificially stimulate your retina by closing your eye and pushing gently 
on the lateral side.  You will see an area of brightness due to the 
pressure exerted on the neurons of your retina.  The pressure is, in this 
case, the "inadequate stimulus."

It is likely that people "see stars" as a result of some minor trauma to 
the brainstem, the optic nerve or the occipital cortex.  All of these 
areas are involved in the processing of visual images.  Therefore, 
artificial stimulation of these neurons will certainly be in an "abnormal 
state."  Other areas can be affected, too, although this does not have to 
be the case.  It is possible for people to feel nausea at the same time 
they are "seeing stars," probably resulting from inadequate stimulation of 
other sensory neural pathways, as well.

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