People with visual snowflake syndrome see tiny flickering dots throughout their visual field. The syndrome was once thought to be a form of migraine, but research has shown it to be a distinct disorder.
Visual snow syndrome is a fairly new diagnosis. No one knows how many people have it, although it doesn’t seem to be common. There are only about 200 documented cases worldwide.
This article looks at visual snow syndrome, its symptoms, causes, and diagnosis. It also discusses possible treatments.
Symptoms of Visual Snow Syndrome
Most people with visual snowflake syndrome always see small dots in both eyes. These spots can get worse with prolonged screen viewing or during periods of high stress.
These points can be described as “snow” or “static”. They look similar to what you might have seen when watching an old TV. They are usually black and white, although they can sometimes be shimmering, colored, or even transparent.
Other disabled vision symptoms may also occur, such as:
- floating object
- night blindnessor impaired night vision
- color swirl
- trompe l’oeilor seeing something that no longer exists
- sensitivity to light, also known as photophobia
There may also be unseen symptoms, including:
- tinnitus or ringing in the ears
- Dizziness, or feeling lightheaded
How to know if you’re experiencing a migraine
Migraine headaches are a notable symptom. A 2014 study of 120 people with visual snowflakes found that 70 of them also suffered from migraines. Of these, 37 also had typical migraine aura. People with migraines with aura see flashes of light or colors during their migraines.
Migraine headaches make some symptoms of visual snow syndrome worse. especially:
- View images when they no longer exist
- impaired night vision
- spontaneous flash
Many people with visual snow syndrome have migraine with or without aura, but the syndrome itself is not migraine.
People with visual snow syndrome may have both visual and non-visual symptoms. In addition to seeing snow, there may also be flashes, floaters, and light sensitivity. Non-visual symptoms may include migraines, dizziness, and anxiety.
Causes of Visual Snow Syndrome
Scientists aren’t sure what causes visual snow syndrome. It appears to be a complex neurological disorder.
People with this syndrome have brain abnormalities, study shows back of tongue. This is a structure in occipital bone lobes, located at the back of the brain. Because visual pathways meet at the occipital lobe, experts believe abnormalities in visual processing may lead to visual snow syndrome.
Nerve cells in the brains of people with visual snow syndrome may be overly sensitive to visual stimuli. These very sensitive nerve cells send signals to the brain incorrectly. The brain interprets them as real images.
The cause of visual snow syndrome is unknown. People with this syndrome have brain abnormalities in structures located at the back of the brain.
How to Diagnose Visual Snow Syndrome
To make this diagnosis, your doctor will:
- Take a Health History
- complete physical examination
- Recommend an eye exam
- Have a neurological exam
Other disorders need to be ruled out before diagnosing visual snow syndrome. A diagnosis is made if you continue to see “snow” or “still” for more than three months and have two or more of the following symptoms:
- sensitive to light
- impaired night vision
- see something that no longer exists
- other visual changes, such as seeing floating objects
Visual snow syndrome is usually diagnosed after other conditions have been ruled out. To be diagnosed, your vision must have snowflakes and two other symptoms.
history of misdiagnosis
In the past, people with visual snow syndrome were often misdiagnosed. Common misdiagnoses include:
- psychogenic Disorder, which is pain with psychological roots
- flashback after hallucination
However, most people with visual snow syndrome have no history of drug use. Nor did their symptoms get better with standard migraine treatment.
Today, doctors know more about visual snow syndrome and are better at spotting it. If you think you have this condition but have been diagnosed with another condition, consider getting a second opinion.
In the past, visual snowflake syndrome was often misdiagnosed as migraine, psychogenic disorders, or post-psychedelic flashbacks.
Treatment of Visual Snow Syndrome
Healthcare providers don’t yet know how to treat this unique condition. In a 2015 case report, a patient took the antiepileptic drug Lamictal (lamotrigine). The drug effectively eliminated the symptoms and also helped reduce her migraine attacks.
In a 2018 case report, a 47-year-old man developed visual snow syndrome after a car accident. He was successfully treated with a low dose of the tricyclic antidepressant Elavil (amitriptyline). Again, this is a study with only one patient.
Large numbers of patients need to be studied. Until this happens, doctors won’t know which treatments will work best.
Visual snow syndrome is uncommon. People with this syndrome see snow-like dots or static electricity in their field of vision. Researchers believe the syndrome may be caused by abnormalities in part of the brain.
In the past, people with this syndrome were often misdiagnosed with migraines or other conditions. If you think you have been misdiagnosed, seek a second opinion.
Doctors don’t yet know how to treat visual snow syndrome. Antiepileptic drugs and antidepressants are effective in individual patients. However, more research is needed.
If you think you may have visual snow syndrome, see your doctor. Scientists now know that the syndrome is linked to a certain part of the brain. This promises to spur research into how best to treat this very real but rare condition.