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Visual Snow: a mysterious eye condition that causes television-like static

Even Googling the phrase returns few results. Some experts claim visual snow doesn’t exist.

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Visual snow sufferers describe their field of vision to an out-of-tune television.

The term “visual snow” refers to a visual abnormality that is both poetic and enigmatic. Snow or television-like static, together with little, moving lights or afterimages that remain like a visual hangover fills the visions of those who are affected.

It can be something they’ve had for a long time, or it can come on abruptly, and there is no relief from it. When you close your eyes, it might certainly become more pronounced.

Even while current research demonstrates that the eyes themselves are normal, it is not known which region of the brain is involved in this condition, and there is no known solution.

Even Googling the phrase returns few results and some experts believe “visual snow doesn’t exist”.

Visual Snow Syndrome: What it is?

“Visual snow is a form of sensory disturbance in which an individual continuously perceives small dots throughout their visual field,” notes an article published in Nature.

“This phenomenon was first described in 1995 but has only been characterized in detail in the past few years.”

Many doctors didn’t take vision snow syndrome seriously for a long time.

“When I first proposed it as a condition worth researching, colleagues thought I was completely, barking crazy,” said UK Visual Snow Syndrome expert Professor Peter Goadsby to Guardian.

By studying migraine auras as director of a research institute, Goadsby came upon the condition because of its similarity to the symptoms of migraines.

Since then, he’s co-authored a paper in Neurology that lays out the first-ever clinical criteria for Visual Snow Syndrome. A diagnosis was confirmed in 1,061 of the 1,104 individuals who self-reported visual snow in the research.

Early signs of Visual Snow Syndrome?

The visual snow itself (“why can I see static” crew – this one’s for you!) was required for a positive diagnosis plus at least two of the symptoms listed below:

  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Visual disturbances within the eye such as floaters
  • Objects lingering in vision after looking away
  • Poor vision in low light

The majority of cases of Visual Snow Syndrome began in childhood, with over 40% of individuals surveyed having had it for as long as they could remember. Surprisingly, those with more acute visual snow had a higher rate of migraine and tinnitus.

When members of an online community were given access to a wealth of information on their disease, a second research (published in the European Journal of Neurology) was published.

“It turned out that there is an entire community on the internet, consisting largely of people with self-diagnosed VSS,” said lead researcher Daniel Kondziella to Nature. “Given the tremendous interest on social networks, I was wondering how frequent this syndrome was and how it had escaped medical attention until very recently.”

To prevent bias, Kondziella and coworkers conducted a poll of 1,015 adults in the United Kingdom who were unaware of the study’s purpose. The results showed that 38 persons had visual snow symptoms, with 22 of them fitting the criteria for Visual Snow Syndrome as defined by the survey. That equates to 3.7 and 2.2 percent of the total surveyed population.

Why do you see Snow or television-like static?

However, the brain and the eye may both be involved in the development of Visual Snow Syndrome, which has no known cause at this time. People who perceive visual snow exhibit changes in brain activity, according to a review published in Frontiers in Neurology.

Lyme illness and hallucinogenic drug usage have also been cited as possible causes of Visual Snow Syndrome, however there is no evidence to support these claims at this time.

“The medical community are more supportive now than they were 10 years ago,” said Jennifer Ambrose of the Eye on Vision foundation which supports people with Visual Snow Syndrome.

“The response is still: ‘There is nothing we can do for you,’ but it is a fair response, because there needs to be more research.”

Image Credit: iStock

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