Visual Snow Syndrome
If you see snow or static all the time, like the picture on an old television, you may have visual snow syndrome. Many people who have it also have migraine headaches. There’s no standard treatment.
What is visual snow syndrome?
Visual snow syndrome is a disorder that causes you to see static. Some describe it as seeing things in a snow globe that's been shaken up. There are flickering dots throughout your field of vision.
The “snow” you see may be colorful, black-and-white or transparent. It may flash.
Scientists aren’t sure why visual snow syndrome happens. It may be related to excitability in the occipital lobes of your brain where images are processed.
For many people, visual snow syndrome is a chronic condition. Many people may also have migraines and anxiety.
How common is visual snow syndrome?
Visual snow syndrome isn’t common. It’s estimated to affect about 2% to 3% of the people in the world.
What are the symptoms of visual snow syndrome?
Visual snow syndrome may include visual symptoms, like:
Seeing “snow” or “static” everywhere you look whether your eyes are open or closed. Seeing the dotted images with closed or open eyes is another unique feature of visual snow syndrome.
Seeing objects trailing after the actual image is gone. This is called palinopsia.
Being sensitive to light (photophobia).
Having difficulties seeing at night (nyctalopia).
Seeing images within your eye (entoptic phenomena), like when you see lights even when your eyes are closed.
If you have visual snow syndrome, you may also experience:
Ringing or buzzing in your ears, known as tinnitus.
Feeling anxious, depressed or irritable.
Having difficulty concentrating, or feeling confused or like you have brain fog.
Having trouble sleeping (insomnia).
Frequent migraines with aura (separate from your visual symptoms).
Feeling dizzy or like you might vomit.
Feeling like you’re not really connected to yourself (depersonalization).
What causes visual snow syndrome?
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of visual snow syndrome. Some scientists think that parts of your brain could be hyperactive.
Are there risk factors for visual snow syndrome?
In some cases, providers have found that visual snow syndrome is diagnosed in people with other disorders, including:
Migraine with and without aura.
How is visual snow syndrome diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will begin any visit by going over your medical history and asking you about your symptoms. They may then perform a physical examination. Your eye care provider will perform a thorough eye exam.
Diagnosing visual snow syndrome requires excluding other diseases. Your provider may order imaging or other tests to do this. You may need to see a neurologist as well as an ophthalmologist. It would be ideal to see a neuro-ophthalmologist.
Your visual symptoms can’t be the same as those of migraine aura. They also can’t be due to another disease or to drugs that would cause the “snow” to appear.
Diagnosing visual snow syndrome requires meeting certain diagnostic criteria. You have to have had symptoms for at least three months. While many people have symptoms from the beginning of their lives, others find the symptoms start in their teens or 20s.
You must also have at least two of these four visual symptoms as well:
Seeing afterimages or trailing images (palinopsia).
Seeing color or light images within your eyes like floaters and flashes (entoptic phenomena).
Being sensitive to light (photophobia).
Having trouble seeing at night (nyctalopia).
How is visual snow syndrome treated?
There’s no standard treatment for visual snow syndrome, but providers continue to research the use of some medications. Your provider may suggest medications to treat mental health symptoms. This may include taking amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant. Doing this may offer you a better quality of life.
Some researchers are testing lamotrigine, an anti-seizure medication, as a treatment. The medicine has been used to prevent migraine with visual aura. Researchers are also testing transcranial magnetic stimulation as a potential treatment for visual snow syndrome.
Using blue light blockers may help. It may also help to get treatment for any other conditions you have, like migraine or anxiety.
How can I reduce my risk of developing visual snow syndrome?
There’s no known way to reduce your risk of developing visual snow syndrome.
What can I expect if I have visual snow syndrome?
Visual snow syndrome isn’t contagious.
Can visual snow just go away?
Visual snow syndrome may just go away on its own after a period of time. In other cases, visual snow syndrome can worsen or become more prominent.
How do I take care of myself if I have visual snow syndrome?
While there’s no definitive treatment for visual snow syndrome, it's a good idea to see a neuro-ophthalmologist to check for other causes of your symptoms. Many people find that symptoms get worse when they’re under stress or don’t get enough sleep.
If this is true for you, you can find ways to relieve stress and avoid fatigue. Some choices for stress relief may include:
Exercise that you enjoy.
There are also things you can do to improve your sleep. These include:
Keeping a sleep schedule. Get up and go to sleep at about the same time every day.
Having a comfortable sleep environment (your bed, pillows and room temperature).
Avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol — particularly late in the day.
Avoiding screen use late in the day.
When should I see my healthcare provider about visual snow syndrome?
It’s important to see your provider any time you experience changes in vision. If you already have a diagnosis of visual snow syndrome, ask your provider for specific directions on when you should contact them. Follow their recommendation for how often you check in going forward.
You may have other questions for your doctor, including:
Am I eligible for clinical trials?
Can you suggest ways of dealing with stress or improving sleep?
Can you suggest a support group for me?
Developing a new or worsening eye condition can be very stressful, especially when the causes are unknown. If you find yourself seeing constant “snow” or “static” throughout your visual field, contact your eye care provider.