Everything You Wanted to Know About Visual Snow 

“I first became aware of seeing visual snow around 10-11 years of age (I’m now 47, and it’s never gone away). As far as I know, I’ve always seen visual snow (although for decades, I didn’t know that it had an actual name). In fact, when I say that I became aware of it at the age of 10-11, what I mean is that I learned then that other people don’t see it. Previously, I had thought that everybody experienced this.

The snow appears superimposed over the whole extent of my visual field, and it does look very much like the noise that you see on a TV screen between channels. It is most noticeable over solid surfaces than over textured ones, and I can’t say that its presence bothers me. I usually don’t even notice it unless I’m paying attention to it, and I can go for days or weeks at a time without thinking about it.”

Visual Snow Patient, Susana Martinez-Conde, PhD
Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, and Physiology & Pharmacology
Empire Innovator Scholar
Director, Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience
State University of New York (SUNY)

Visual snow is a condition that is considered to be relatively rare, but obtaining exact statistics is not easy because many patients don’t realize they have it or don’t realize that it is not normal. Over the years patients have faced many challenges. It was not regarded as a “real” condition by many doctors. Visual snow patients were often treated similar to those with chronic pain and conditions like fibromyalgia. Many times they were told that it was “all in their head” or the result of past or present illicit drug use.

Times are changing though as patients are calling more attention to their VS and researchers are paying attention. The American Academy of Neurology is taking steps to formally recognize it as a condition or syndrome and put it on the map.

What is Visual Snow?

Graphic of a screen with static, much like what a visual snow patient sees every day.

Visual snow (VS) is a condition characterized by a disruption in a person’s visual field, usually tiny white and black dots that resemble a television screen with poor reception. Other symptoms that may present visually include photophobia, prolonged afterimages, color swirls, trailing, bright flashes, poor night vision, and floaters. Sometimes the dots are colored and change color very rapidly. While it is not associated with a visual aura that can accompany migraine, many patients who have VS also have migraines. Many people who have a history of drug use, primarily hallucinogenic, have the condition.

The clinical term for visual snow is aeropsia but it may also be referred to as “visual static” or “positive persistent visual disturbance.” It tends to be somewhat unique to each patient although most of the symptoms are widely similar. However, each patient describes their condition with some minute differences that seem to make it unique to them. The visual disturbance can be either persistent, meaning it is always present, or transitory, meaning it is somewhat intermittent. It can also cover the entire visual field or only part.

The condition is often visible in all light conditions, although it is more noticeable under certain light and against backgrounds that are darker. Dim lighting can exacerbate it as can darkness. Some patients report it being particularly bothersome when they are trying to read.

Visual snow is medically determined to be a unique syndrome and is believed to be quite rare. However, doctors disagree about its frequency but do believe that many instances go unreported. This can be due to the patient being unaware that what they are experiencing is abnormal or simply because they it doesn’t bother them all that much.

Types of Visual Snow

There are two main types of visual snow: pulse type and broadband. Each refers to how the visual field is disrupted; what the patient sees.

Pulse Type – In this type of visual snow there are dots are uniform in size and are scattered across the visual field. It is described as being similar to drops of water on a car’s windshield during light rain. The dots may be lighter or darker than the dominant or overall color of the scene the patient is viewing. They may also seem to swirl or flicker.

Pulse type visual snow shows the dots on white or dark background and are uniform in size and are scattered across the visual field

Broadband – In this type of visual snow, there is a fuzzy or snowy appearance over the visual field like a television that gets
poor reception or is turned to an out of service channel. The fuzz or noise may be darker or lighter than the overall color of the scene but it does somewhat obscure the vision. The dots can vary in size.

There are several sub-types or additional visual symptoms of VS. They are consistently found in about a third of patients who have the condition.

  • Nyctalopia (impaired night vision)
  • Palinopsia (after images, trailing)
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Entoptic phenomena (self light of the eye, spontaneous photopsia, blue field entoptic phenomenon, floaters)

Headache and migraine are commonly associated with visual snow, particularly when it is beginning or when it worsens. In one study, 59% of the subjects who had the condition also had migraines.

Causes of Visual Snow

Image showing the different sections of the brain's cortex and what each section does. Also shown in the thalamus.Doctors do not know what causes visual snow, but many believe that thalamocortical dysrhythmia is a significant contributor. Thalamocortical dysrhythmia is a disruption of neural activity between the thalamus and other areas of the brain’s cortex. There are also some medical conditions of which VS can be a symptom. The most common include migraine or persistent migraine aura (PMA), hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), and optic neuritis as a symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). Excessive use of a computer or smartphone has been linked to the condition as well. Some research also suggests that visual snow is hereditary.

There are a number of health issues, both physical and mental, that seem to be comorbidities of VS. There is some speculation among researchers that there is a link, whether the visual snow led to some of them or it is a symptom of the condition. Some of the most common comorbid conditions to visual snow include:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep deprivation (insomnia, fatigue)
  • Lyme disease
  • Auto Immune disease

Post hallucinogen perceptual disorder (PHPD), also known as “flashbacks” stemming from drug use (hallucinogenic drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide – LSD) has long been thought to be and primary, if not only, cause of visual snow. While the condition can occur in connection with drug use, sometimes long after the patient has stopped using drugs, researchers are finding that it can occur when the patient has never used any drugs.

Other Accompanying Symptoms

Migraine, with or without aura, is one of the most common symptoms accompanying visual snow. Migraine without aura seems to more often accompany the condition than migraine with aura. There are other symptoms that patients report that seem to be symptoms directly related to VS. Not all patients experience the same symptoms and some patients do not experience any other symptoms at all besides the visual disruption.

Common symptoms accompanying visual snow include:

  • Headache
  • Ear pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Tingling
  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitus
  • Concentration problems
  • Head pressure
  • “Dimmed” vision
  • Numbness
  • Depersonalization

Various treatments, both natural and pharmaceutical, can be used to manage or decrease the symptoms. Sometimes, easing the symptoms can ease the effect of the visual snow. However, getting a diagnosis can be difficult, especially if the accompanying symptoms get more attention than the visual disturbance.

Getting a Diagnosis

Doctor and patient discussing visual snow diagnosis

Getting a firm diagnosis of visual snow is difficult. Underlying causes, comorbidities, and overwhelming accompanying symptoms can overshadow the actual condition and it can be missed. There are also other unrelated conditions that can be confused with visual snow syndrome.

While optometrists, neurologists, and general practitioners can diagnose visual snow, a neurologist is often more likely to identify and diagnose the condition. In order to obtain the initial diagnosis the patient must meet four key criteria:

  • Have continuous, dynamic, dots in the vision field
  • Must exhibit at least one additional symptom:
    • Photophobia
    • Palinopsia (after images and visual trailing)
    • Tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears)
    • Enhanced entoptic phenomena (blue field entoptic phenomenon, floaters, self light of the eye, photopsia)
    • Impaired night vision
  • Symptoms are not associated with standard migraine aura
  • Symptoms are not associated with another medical condition or disorder such as drug abuse, MS, ophthalmological, or others.

Common Linked Conditions

There are several medical conditions that are commonly linked to visual snow. These conditions may be comorbid with VS or the condition may be a symptom. These conditions are:      

  • Persistent migraine aura (PMA) – A migraine aura is a disturbance that can precede a migraine or accompany it. Often these auras are visual and the patient may experience flashes of light, flares, or other vision disruptions. A typical migraine aura is relatively short, lasting a few minutes to an hour. However, in a PMA the aura can last for days, even extending beyond a week.
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) – With this disorder the patient experiences sensory disturbances, often visual, that are the result of the patient using hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD even in cases where they have not taken the drug for years. This condition is often referred to as “flashbacks.”
  • Optic neuritis from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – This condition occurs when the optic nerve becomes inflamed and loses the myelin (coating that protects the nerve). As a result, the unprotected nerve does not work as it should and it cannot send the right messages to the brain. This can lead to visual disturbances such as visual snow.
  • Brain Injury (BI) – A brain injury or head injury can occur when the patient’s head is jerked or jostled, or they suffer a blow to the head. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, the patient may experience visual disturbances as a result.

Effects of Visual Snow

Many patients who live with visual snow don’t experience much of an impact in their lives due to the condition. Often they have had the condition since childhood and to them it is normal. They have created adapting strategies that allow them to compensate for the impaired vision and they can carry on their daily lives with few disruptions. However, some patients experience significant problems as the condition impairs their vision and creates incredible stress. In those cases, doctors and patients alike consider visual snow to be a debilitating condition.

A patient with VS may experience impaired vision and this alone can be stressful. When they have to manage it every day, many patients can become depressed or anxious about it. They may experience sensitivity to light, sometimes severe, and night blindness. These difficulties can lead the patient to become socially withdrawn and isolated which does not help if they are experiencing depression.

This powerful video show’s how one woman perceives her struggle with visual snow.

Treatments for Visual Snow

There are very few treatments for visual snow. In most cases, treatment depends on the underlying condition or associated condition if there is one. There is no single treatment that works for all or even most patients with VS. Often, once the doctor diagnoses the condition he or she will have to work with the patient, trying various treatment methods until they find something that works. Most VS treatment options are theoretical and not proven through extensive clinical testing, yet many patients attest to their effectiveness.

Some of the more common treatments include:

Vision rehab – This is a term that applies to several strategies including visual adaptation and visual habituation which have been found very useful in treating patients who have visual vertigo. While it is not yet proven to provide relief for VS, it is a theory that some doctors feel is worth pursuing.

Medication – Medication is usually administered to treat the cause of visual snow when there is an underlying condition. In some studies, medications such as propranolol and lamotrigine have provided some relief.

Diet – Diet can be key in a variety of health conditions and those involving the eyes and brain are no different. Visual snow can result from a patient’s reaction to dietary issues, particularly sensitivities to preservatives in foods. The first steps a patient can take in getting better is to modify their diet to avoid processed foods.

Precision Tinted Glasses – Precision tinted glasses, or migraine glasses, have helped many people find relief. While they are not a recognized treatment method for visual snow, many patients claim that their migraine glasses made all the difference. Migraine sufferers and use these glasses while similar glasses are used by patients with Irlen Syndrome and light sensitivity.

How to Help Someone Suffering from Visual Snow

If you have a friend or family member who suffers from visual snow, then you probably know the difficulties that they have on a daily basis. The best way to help someone with this condition is to educate yourself. Find out what visual snow it and how it specifically affects that person. Learn about what makes it worse and what lessens the symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to better understand how you can help the person.

Keep in mind that the patient cannot control their condition and they likely cannot control any underlying or additional symptoms that they may have. Try to be understanding and sensitive to the fact that they may experience anxiety and depression as a result of the condition.

If you are an employer and you have an employee who has visual snow, education is where you need to start. Ask the patient how their VS affects them and how it affects their work. Ask them if they require any reasonable accommodations to make their work environment more comfortable and more productive. Understand that there are many conditions that accompany visual snow, including anxiety, panic attacks, migraines, and other health issues.

What patients experience when they have visual snow is as real and valid as other health conditions. They deal with symptoms as well as a sense of being different and sometimes failing to fit in with their peer groups. Any disability can be isolating and VS is no different, especially when it is severe. Patience and a desire to understand will help patients relax and help them fit in and experience the world in a much more pleasant way.

If you have Visual Snow

Infographic with tips for living with visual snowIf you have visual snow syndrome or think you do, you can get relief. Talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about the various therapies and treatments that are available for your specific situation. Doctors and researchers are making progress every day in treating patients with VS, whether it is a condition on its own or the symptom of an underlying condition. Most of all, take care of yourself. When you are dealing with any health issue the first step to getting better is self care. Make sure that you eat healthy, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep.

Many visual snow patients find comfort and support in a number of online groups and forums.

If you have this condition you may enjoy connecting with other visual snow patients on these sites:

Awareness for Visual Snow (Facebook Page)

Visual Snow Forum

Those with Visual Snow (Yuku)

Visual Snow Disease Maps

What’s Ahead for Visual Snow Patients?

There could be great things ahead for visual snow patients as new research is looking into treatments and cures for the condition. The Eye on Vision Foundation (EOVF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is devoted to finding a cure for visual snow and related conditions. The EOVF founder, Jennifer Ambrose, is a sufferer of VS and it has had a significant impact on her life. She has had it since childhood, but the symptoms increased in intensity in 2005 to the point that it affected her quality of life. Her symptoms have calmed some since 2014, but she is still very much affected. She hopes that the research funded by her foundation will open new doors to help and relief for visual snow patients. Most of all, she is looking for a cure.

Two neurologists have been collaborating with EOVF to find a treatment for visual snow. Dr. Peter J. Goadsby and Dr. Christoph J. Schankin conducted the first visual snow study, publishing the results in May 2014. They believe that this study helped them identify the area of the brain where VS originates. Dr. Schankin led a German visual snow study in 2015 – 2016. They, along with other researchers, are planning more research to better understand and find treatment for this condition. The hope is that one day there will be a cure and that people suffering from visual snow will get relief and have the chance to live a better quality life.

Hope is on the horizon.

 

20 thoughts on “Visual Snow Guide

  1. India Taylor says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have lived with this for decades and tried to tell doctors about it and been dismissed. Are used to say it was like it was misting outside. I’m actually close to tears finding out that I wasn’t fabricating this in some way because I was made to feel that way. It’s an amazing feeling to be vidicated.

    • Nov says:

      India Taylor , Vision Snow is no laughing matter. But I had the chuckles when I read that you thought it was like misting outside. In the early days of my VS, I would look outside and believe it was raining a fine pour. I insisted it was raining, saying to my family, can’t you see the rain? I had no clue that I was the only one seeing this. I have chronic Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Bartonella. Besides the tick-borne diseases, I have MSIDS(Multiple Systemic Infectious Disease Syndrome. ) Looks like you and I will never be successful Meteorologists. I wish you well…….

      • Virginia says:

        I’m so sorry to hear that! While we can’t help with many of the symptoms you’ve experienced, our lens might help with the light sensitivity component of your condition.

  2. Patrick Hudnall says:

    Going into my third month. I though I was seeing red blood cells in black and white, in my field of vision. Now it would seem I have Pulse Type Black Visual Snow. I had cataract surgery so my Opthamologist could perform a better exam. She saw nothing but normal strand type floaters. My dots only appear in bright light. Thank God. However also appear on my computer monitor. Is there any hope???

    • Virginia says:

      Hi Patrick, I’m sorry to hear that you suffer from this condition. I’m not sure if there is a treatment for Pulse Type Black Visual Snow. You might contact your neuro-ophthalmologist, or one of the Visual Snow support groups. Our lenses provide relief for some people with this condition. You’re welcome to email us anytime.

  3. Nikki says:

    I have had this for a long, long time. Starting in my teens and roughly around the time my first persistent migraine aura cropped up. But I never had migraines with headaches until I was 20 so had no clue what either were until I was diagnosed with migraine with aura, then the visual snow and persistent migraine auras. Mine is the broadband type. Always there, worse in certain lights or from lack of sleep. I wear the tinted Axon specs mostly due to extreme photosensitivity, migraine or not. I haven’t paid much attention to see if it helps with the snow… I do not like to dwell on the snow. If you pay attention to it, you just can’t stop seeing it. Although it can be very warpy a field… and distort things you are ‘seeing through it’.

  4. maria says:

    Thank you, thank you for such informative article! I have very severe chronic migraines and even though I am a physician and have access to all the “new technologies” , I had already given up in finding a special kind of glasses for my photosensitivity and snow. No ophthalmologist, optometrist, or neurologist had been able to give me any answer. Your article is la life saver! Thanks Axonoptics and thanks Dr. Andrew Charles for linking to this website. ?

    • Virginia says:

      Hi Maria!
      We’re so glad that our article was informative to you. Many doctors do not know that our product exists because it is not promoted through a major pharmaceutical company. I hope that our lens provides you with the relief you need. Please email me at [email protected] if you have any questions or need help choosing a pair of glasses.

  5. Jane Lea says:

    We are desperate for answers and help. My now 17 year old son developed a debilitating case of VS 16 months ago. He went from 20/30 vision to 20/800 in a matter of months. He has all of the classic VS symptoms, except for tinnitus. He also has developed extreme tremors, which is another symptom of VS. We are in the 6000+ members VS support group on Facebook, and it seems like my son has the most severe case. He now is legally blind, walks with a guide cane, had to learn braille because he can no longer read at any magnification or with any light/font adjustments. He wears different tints of sunglasses and they only reduce the extreme light sensitivity to a bearable level. He has had every test, including opthamological, neurological, bloodwork, etc etc. Its VS and it’s bad. We need help.

    • Virginia says:

      Hi Jane,
      I’m so sorry to hear about the severity of your son’s Visual Snow. I wish there were a cure for this debilitating condition. As your son is extremely photophobic, our tints probably would be too light for him to wear alone. He might consider putting our outdoor tint in a Cover-RX Lite over one of his current dark lenses, to see if that provides him with some relief. Our tint has worked for some people with visual snow, so it may be worth trying in this situation. Please email me at [email protected] if you need any further guidance. Best of Luck!

  6. Matt says:

    I’ve had VS since i was a kid, it took years before i realised what i saw wasnt correct. Ive never visited a doctor. Im probably in between the mild and the worst. Ive never had any migraines or tinnitus. But I am colour blind (partial to green/yellow).

    Ive lived with it for over 20 years, and luckily i cant tell if has gotten worse. It has become a part of life i dont even think of it. Live life, be happy, dont dwell, see past the dots. Some periods are worse some are better, dont stress and sleep well. We are many. I know poeple in all fields of work who have it, firefighers, CEOs, teachers etc etc. Spread the word, thanks to internet now people finally wake up.

  7. Allie Smith says:

    Thank you for this article. I’ve come to realize that I’ve had broadband VS most of my life. Now I have migraines, extreme light sensitivity, and also sensitivity to noise and high-pitch frequencies. Just curious if any other VS people have sound sensitivity as well?? Saving up for some of your glasses, and hoping they’ll help. I’ve pretty much given up on going to doctors. But it’s nice to know there’s some research happening.

    • Erik says:

      Hi Allie, I am very sensitive to sound in addition to my Visual Snow. Are you able to work with the symptoms just curios. I’ve been so isolated with my symptoms.

  8. Tim says:

    Been struggling with this for a few years now. Had it as a child but shrugged it off. After a life changing experience, along with the use of psychedelic drugs, the snow became much more apparent. The blue entopic phenomenon is the worst part, it’s extremely hard to look at the sky during the day due to this. If anyone is doing research on this and wants to question me, or needs to talk, please do. [email protected]

  9. tohmi says:

    I have had visual snow as long as I can remember. I used to tell my mom that I could see atoms at night, and I remember seeing it vividly when going to bed, and would even make patterns out of it. I discovered the term visual snow about four years ago, and at that time it was nothing more than a whisper on the wide web with very limited data and research on it. I’m loving that there is all of this new information and people reaching out! I have a feeling it is not as rare as it seems, as I have met three other people who have it and describe it the same as I experience it. They have all had it since birth, but have no other visual perception issues, although I do not see well during the night because of it. I am excited to see so many people also experience the same condition!

  10. mark says:

    After having vs for my whole life (65 years), I just discovered that it has a name, and that I am not alone. Told my mother early on that I could see the air molecules. Got much worse after drug experimentation at 17. Lifelong struggle with ptsd, Ocd, anxiety, scrupulousity. I also have after images, migraine auras, some color displays in the dark, some tinnitus, etc. Now developed cervical dystonia. Unrelated? Preternaturally immune to all botox, the primary treatment. Had dbs brain surgery which has helped some. Life has not been easy.

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