You may temporarily see yellow spots after looking at a bright light or rubbing your eyes. But you may also see them due to serious medical conditions such as transient ischemic attack or retinal detachment.

Your eye is a complex structure. Light enters through your pupil and gets focused through the lens before hitting your retina at the back of your eyeball. Special cells in your retina convert light to electrical signals that are sent to your brain via the optic nerve.

Damage to any part of this delicate system can lead to vision problems. Vision problems also tend to become more common with age due to structural changes and an increased risk of developing conditions like diabetes that can damage your eyes.

Seeing yellow spots can have many causes that range from normal to medical emergencies. In this article, we look at some of the potential causes.

There are many reasons why you may be experiencing yellow spots in your vision. Here are some of the potential causes, but for a proper diagnosis, you should visit an eye doctor.

Nonmedical reasons you see yellow spots

Looking at bright lights

Looking at a bright light and then looking away can cause temporary blindness or the temporary appearance of spots or patterns in your vision. Bright light causes special cells in your retina to become saturated with pigment. Your vision should return to normal after a few seconds or minutes when these cells become unsaturated again.

You may notice this phenomenon when you move from a brightly lit area to a dark one or if you’re exposed to a sudden bright light like a camera flash.

Looking directly into the sun or at extremely bright lights like explosions can cause permanent sight loss.

Rubbing your eyes or putting pressure on your eyes

You may experience spots and random bursts of color in your vision after rubbing your eyes or putting direct pressure on your eyeball. These spots and bursts of color are called phosphenes. Phosphenes should go away after several moments and can appear as spots, bars, or random patterns of colorless or colored light.

They’re thought to appear because direct pressure on your eyeball tricks your retinal cells into thinking they’re being exposed to light.

Researchers can also create phosphenes by stimulating the part of your brain that controls vision with an electrical current called transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Drugs, head injuries, and radiation

Exposure to radiation

People exposed to radiation of their head, neck, or eyes commonly report changes in their vision, including seeing lights that aren’t there and colored spots. Radiation therapy used in cancer treatment is one common way people are exposed to radiation.

About 70 percent of people receiving radiotherapy for melanoma of the eye experience seeing light or colors that aren’t there during the procedure. The appearance of these lights or colors can vary but usually goes away once radiation stops.

Other vision side effects that may occur after radiation therapy include:

Side effects of some medications and chemicals

Some medications can potentially cause spots or random patterns of light to appear in your vision. Seeing spots or random light patterns are one of the most common side effects of the medication ivabradine, used to treat some adults with heart failure.

Seeing spots and light patterns can also be stimulated by alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, and other drugs.

Another heart failure medication called digoxin is known to cause vision with a yellow-green tint as a potential side effect.

Head injuries

A sudden force to your head can potentially cause random electrical impulses in the part of your brain that controls vision, called your occipital lobe. Your brain may interpret these impulses as spots or patterns.

Head injuries can also lead to structural damage of your cranial nerves, optic nerve tract, or other parts of your vision system.

Other common vision disturbances experienced after a head injury include:

Vigorously sneezing, coughing, or laughing can also cause you to see phosphenes, possibly due to stimulating the cells in your retina with pressure.

Medical conditions

Migraine with aura

Migraine is a condition that causes reoccurring moderate to severe headaches. An aura is when migraine is paired with sensory changes. About 90 percent of people who experience migraine with aura also see spots, stars, or patterns of light. Other visual symptoms can include:

  • blind spots
  • lines in your field of vision
  • seeing flashes of light
  • vision loss
  • changes to your vision

Retinal detachment and other retinal conditions

Retinal detachment is when your retina becomes partially or fully detached from the back of your eye. It’s a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. When your retina tears or detaches, your retinal cells may fire and lead you to see random spots or patterns of light and color that can potentially include yellow spots.

Other symptoms of a retinal detachment include:

  • floaters (debris in your vision) that appear suddenly
  • flashes of light
  • blurry vision
  • vision loss often described as a shadow moving across your vision

Other conditions that cause damage or inflammation of your retina can also potentially cause you to see yellow spots. Some conditions include:

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A TIA is a mini-stroke caused by the blockage of a blood vessel. If it occurs in a blood vessel leading to your eye, it can cause loss of vision often described as a curtain falling over one eye.

it can cause you to see yellow spots or other patterns of light that aren’t there.

Symptoms can include:

Eye melanoma

Eye melanoma is a type of cancer of the eyeball. Typical symptoms include:

  • seeing floaters
  • dark spots on your iris
  • blurry vision
  • a change in the shape of your pupil

A 2020 case study describes a person who developed seeing random spots and patterns in his left eye due to melanoma in and around his iris. In theory, it’s possible that some people may see yellow spots.

Seeing yellow spots on a white background may be due to the afterimage effect. The afterimage effect is when you see an image that’s no longer there.

You may experience this phenomenon when you stare at a colorful object or scene for a long time and quickly look away. In theory, if you stare at something yellow and glance away, you may see yellow spots or patterns. These spots should disappear within moments.

If you want to experience this phenomenon, you can stare at a brightly colored picture for about a minute and quickly shift your vision to a white piece of paper or white wall.

Seeing spots or patterns is also associated with:

  • stress
  • alcohol consumption
  • emotional factors

These spots may be more noticeable when you look at something white.

Yellow spots that disappear soon after staring at a bright light or rubbing your eyes are normal and don’t require treatment. Treatment for other conditions involves targeting the underlying cause. Here are potential treatment options for some of the reasons you may be seeing yellow spots.

Head injuryRest
Pain relievers
Side effect of medicationChange dosage of medication*
Stop taking medication*
Radiation therapyModify cancer treatment (with doctor’s guidance)
Migraine with auraPain relievers
Prescription medications
TIAAntiplatelets and anticoagulants
Blood pressure medication
Eye melanomaSurgery
Radiation therapy

* Speak with your before stopping or changing the dosage of any medication you have been prescribed.

It’s a good idea to visit an eye doctor any time you notice changes in your vision. It’s especially critical to see a doctor if you started seeing spots after a sudden head injury or if you have other symptoms of retinal detachment or retinal disease.

There are many reasons why you may be seeing yellow spots. They may part of your eyes’ natural adaption to changing light conditions or they could be a sign of a potentially serious medical condition.

Seeing yellow spots without other symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong, but it’s a good idea to visit an eye doctor if you notice a sudden change in your vision.