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.
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.
Visual snow syndrome isn’t common. It’s estimated to affect about 2% to 3% of the people in the world.
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Visual snow syndrome may include visual symptoms, like:
If you have visual snow syndrome, you may also experience:
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of visual snow syndrome. Some scientists think that parts of your brain could be hyperactive.
In some cases, providers have found that visual snow syndrome is diagnosed in people with other disorders, including:
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:
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.
There’s no known way to reduce your risk of developing visual snow syndrome.
Visual snow syndrome isn’t contagious.
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.
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:
There are also things you can do to improve your sleep. These include:
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:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/13/2022.
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