Unsolved:Visual snow

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Short description: Visual impairment
Visual snow syndrome
Other namesPersistent positive visual phenomenon,[1] visual static, aeropsia
Animated example of visual snow-like noise
SpecialtyNeurology, Neuro-ophthalmology
SymptomsStatic and auras in vision, Palinopsia, Blue field entoptic phenomenon, Nyctalopia, Tinnitus
ComplicationsPoor quality of vision, Photophobia, Heliophobia, Depersonalization and Derealization[2]
Usual onsetVisual Snow can appear at any time, but it commonly appears at birth, late teenage years, and early adulthood.
CausesUnknown,[3] hyperexcitability of neurons and processing problems in the visual cortex[4][5]
Risk factorsMigraine sufferer,[6] psychoactive substance use
Differential diagnosisMigraine aura,[7] Persistent aura without infarction, Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder[8][9]
MedicationAnticonvulsants[7][3] (limited evidence and success)

Visual snow, also known as visual static, is an uncommon neurological condition in which the affected individuals see white, black, transparent, or coloured dots across the whole visual fields.[7][4] The condition is typically always present and has no known cure.[10] Migraine and tinnitus are common comorbidities and are both associated with a more severe presentation of the syndrome.[11]

The cause of visual snow is unclear.[3] The underlying mechanism is believed to involve excessive excitability of neurons in the right lingual gyrus and left anterior lobe of cerebellum. Another hypothesis proposes that visual snow syndrome could be a type of thalamocortical dysrhythmia and may involve the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). A failure of inhibitory action from the TRN to the thalamus may be the underlying cause for inability to suppress excitatory sensory information.[4][6] Research has been limited due to issues of case identification and diagnosis, the latter now largely addressed, and the limited size of any studied cohort. Initial functional brain imaging research suggests visual snow is a brain disorder.

There is no established treatment for visual snow. Medications that may be used to treat the condition include lamotrigine, acetazolamide, or verapamil.[4] However, these do not commonly result in benefits and the evidence for their use is very limited.[7][3]

Signs and symptoms

Clear vision versus disturbed vision

People report seeing "snow", much like the visual noise or "static" on a TV screen after transmission ends. In addition to this visual snow, many of those affected have other types of visual disturbances such as starbursts, increased afterimages, floaters, trails, and many others.[12]

Visual snow likely represents a clinical continuum, with different degrees of severity. The presence of comorbidities such as migraine and tinnitus is associated with a more severe presentation of the visual symptoms.[11]


Visual snow syndrome is usually diagnosed with the following proposed criteria:[13][14][11]

  • Visual snow: dynamic, continuous, tiny dots in the entire visual field lasting more than three months.
    • The dots are usually black/gray on a white background and gray/white on a black background; however, they can also be transparent, white flashing, or colored.
  • Presence of at least 2 additional visual symptoms of the 4 following categories:
  • Symptoms are not consistent with typical migraine aura.
  • Symptoms are not better explained by another disorder (ophthalmological, drug abuse).

Additional and non visual symptoms like tinnitus, ear pressure or brain fog and more might be present. It can also be diagnosed by PET scan.


Migraine and migraine with aura are common comorbidities. However, comorbid migraine worsens some of the additional visual symptoms and tinnitus seen in "visual snow" syndrome. This might bias research studies by patients with migraine being more likely to offer study participation than those without migraine due to having more severe symptoms. In contrast to migraine, comorbidity of typical migraine aura does not appear to worsen symptoms.[6]

Psychological side effects of visual snow can include depersonalization, derealization, depression, photophobia and heliophobia in the individual affected.[2]

Patients with visual "snow" have normal equivalent input noise levels and contrast sensitivity.[15] In a 2010 study, Raghaven et al. hypothesize that what the patients see as "snow" is eigengrau.[15] This would also explain why many report more visual snow in low light conditions: "The intrinsic dark noise of primate cones is equivalent to ~4000 absorbed photons per second at mean light levels; below this the cone signals are dominated by intrinsic noise".[16]


The causes are unclear.[3] The underlying mechanism is believed to involve excessive excitability of neurons within the cortex of the brain,[4] specifically the right lingual gyrus and left cerebellar anterior lobe of the brain.[6]

Persisting visual snow can feature as a leading addition to a migraine complication called persistent aura without infarction,[17] commonly referred to as persistent migraine aura (PMA). In other clinical sub-forms of migraine headache may be absent and the migraine aura may not take the typical form of the zigzagged fortification spectrum (scintillating scotoma), but manifests with a large variety of focal neurological symptoms.[18]

Visual snow does not depend on the effect of psychotropic substances on the brain.[11] Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), a condition caused by hallucinogenic drug use, is sometimes linked to visual snow,[19] but both the connection of visual snow to HPPD[8] and the cause and prevalence of HPPD is disputed.[9] Most of the evidence for both is generally anecdotal, and subject to spotlight fallacy.[8][9]

Another proposed mechanism is a thalamocortical dysrhythmia of the visual pathway, similar to tinnitus, which is a thalamocortical dysrhythmia of the auditory pathway.[citation needed]


  • In May 2015, visual snow was described as a persisting positive visual phenomenon distinct from migraine aura in a study by Schankin and Goadsby.[20]
  • In December 2020, a study[21] found local increases in regional cerebral perfusion in patients with visual snow syndrome.
  • In May 2021, University of Zurich researchers announced a clinical trial on neurofeedback for visual snow syndrome.
  • In June 2021, University of Colorado researchers started recruiting for a clinical trial on transcranial magnetic stimulation for visual snow syndrome.
  • In September 2021, two studies[22] found white matter alterations in parts of the visual cortex and outside the visual cortex in patients with visual snow syndrome.


It is difficult to resolve visual snow with treatment, but it is possible to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life through treatment, both of the syndrome and its comorbidities.[4] Medications that may be used include lamotrigine, acetazolamide, or verapamil,[4] but these do not always result in benefits.[7][3] As of 2021, there were two ongoing clinical trials using transcranial magnetic stimulation and neurofeedback for visual snow.[23][24]

A recent study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology has confirmed that common drug treatments are generally ineffective in visual snow syndrome (VSS). Vitamins and benzodiazepines, however, were shown to be beneficial in some patients and can be considered safe for this condition.[25]

Dr. Victoria Pelak, Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology in the Department of Neurology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has recently directed, published, and completed enrollment for a TMS study protocol. The study protocol aims to investigate the use of rTMS intervention to improve symptoms and visual dysfunction associated with visual snow (VS); the study protocol also describes the challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.[26]

In addition, Dr. Pelak described during her practice that she lets patients know that current treatment options are only limited to alleviating symptoms. She recommends that her patients focus on pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments to control migraine, headaches, anxiety, and depression. As for light sensitivity complications, Dr. Pelak advises patients to use FL-41 tinted lenses indoors. She also recommends visual occupational therapists who assist patients with color-tinted lenses to alleviate VSS symptoms. Furthermore, Dr. Pelak states that exercising, meditation, and a healthy balanced diet can improve overall daily functioning.[27]


  1. Licht, Joseph; Ireland, Kathryn; Kay, Matthew. "Visual Snow: Clinical Correlations and Workup A Case Series". Larkin Community Hospital. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303300977. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Diagnostic Criteria | Visual Snow Initiative". https://www.visualsnowinitiative.org/diagnostic-criteria/. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Brodsky, Michael C. (2016) (in en). Pediatric Neuro-Ophthalmology. Springer. p. 285. ISBN 9781493933846. https://books.google.com/books?id=f_mODAAAQBAJ&pg=PA285. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Bou Ghannam, A; Pelak, VS (March 2017). "Visual snow: a potential cortical hyperexcitability syndrome". Current Treatment Options in Neurology 19 (3): 9. doi:10.1007/s11940-017-0448-3. PMID 28349350. 
  5. Bou Ghannam, A.; Pelak, V. S. (2017). "Visual Snow: A Potential Cortical Hyperexcitability Syndrome". Current Treatment Options in Neurology 19 (3): 9. doi:10.1007/s11940-017-0448-3. PMID 28349350. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28349350/. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Schankin, CJ, Maniyar, FH, Sprenger, T, Chou, DE, Eller, M, Goadsby, PJ, 2014, The Relation Between Migraine, Typical Migraine Aura and "Visual Snow", Headache, doi:10.1111/head.12378
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Dodick, David; Silberstein, Stephen D. (2016) (in en). Migraine. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780199793617. https://books.google.com/books?id=Y-wmDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA53. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Schankin, C.; Maniyar, F.; Hoffmann, J.; Chou, D.; Goadsby, P. (22 April 2012). "Visual Snow: A New Disease Entity Distinct from Migraine Aura (S36.006)". Neurology 78 (Meeting Abstracts 1): S36.006. doi:10.1212/WNL.78.1_MeetingAbstracts.S36.006. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Halpern, J (1 March 2003). "Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder: what do we know after 50 years?". Drug and Alcohol Dependence 69 (2): 109–119. doi:10.1016/S0376-8716(02)00306-X. PMID 12609692. 
  10. Schankin, CJ; Goadsby, PJ (June 2015). "Visual snow--persistent positive visual phenomenon distinct from migraine aura". Current Pain and Headache Reports 19 (6): 23. doi:10.1007/s11916-015-0497-9. PMID 26021756. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Puledda, Francesca; Schankin, Christoph; Goadsby, Peter (2020). "Visual snow syndrome. A clinical and phenotypical description of 1,100 cases.". Neurology 94 (6): e564–e574. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000008909. PMID 31941797. PMC 7136068. https://n.neurology.org/content/neurology/94/6/e564.full.pdf. 
  12. Podoll K, Dahlem M, Greene S. Persistent migraine aura symptoms aka visual snow. (archived Feb 8, 2012)
  13. Schankin, Christoph J.; Maniyar, Farooq H.; Digre, Kathleen B.; Goadsby, Peter J. (2014-03-18). "'Visual snow' – a disorder distinct from persistent migraine aura" (in en). Brain 137 (5): 1419–1428. doi:10.1093/brain/awu050. ISSN 1460-2156. PMID 24645145. 
  14. "Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS) The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition" (in en). Cephalalgia 38 (1): 1–211. 2018-01-25. doi:10.1177/0333102417738202. ISSN 0333-1024. PMID 29368949. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Raghavan, Manoj; Remler, Bernd F.; Rozman1, Stephanie; Pelli, Denis G. (2010). "Patients with visual 'snow' have normal equivalent input noise levels". Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (51). https://psych.nyu.edu/pelli/pubs/raghavan2010arvo-snow.pdf. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  16. Dunn, FA; Rieke, F (August 2006). "The impact of photoreceptor noise on retinal gain controls". Current Opinion in Neurobiology 16 (4): 363–70. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2006.06.013. PMID 16837189. 
  17. International Headache Society. The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition" Cephalalgia 2004; 24 (suppl. 1): 1-160.
  18. "Headache". http://casemed.case.edu/clerkships/neurology/NeurLrngObjectives/Headache.htm. 
  19. Abraham HD (1983). "Visual phenomenology of the LSD flashback". Arch Gen Psychiatry 40 (8): 884–889. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1983.01790070074009. PMID 6135405. 
  20. Schankin, Christoph; Goadsby, Peter (2015). "Visual Snow—Persistent Positive Visual Phenomenon Distinct from Migraine Aura". Current Pain and Headache Reports Uncommon and/or Unusual Headaches and Syndromes (6): 23. doi:10.1007/s11916-015-0497-9. PMID 26021756. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11916-015-0497-9.pdf. 
  21. Puledda, Francesca; Goadsby, Peter (2021). "Localised increase in regional cerebral perfusion in patients with visual snow syndrome: a pseudo-continuous arterial spin labelling study". Migraine 92 (9): 918–926. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2020-325881. PMID 34261750. PMC 8372400. https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/jnnp/92/9/918.full.pdf. 
  22. MIchels, Lars; Traber, Ghislaine (21 September 2021). "Widespread White Matter Alterations in Patients With Visual Snow Syndrome". Frontiers in Neurology 12: 723805. doi:10.3389/fneur.2021.723805. PMID 34621237. 
  23. Neurofeedback in Visual Snow. U.S. National Library of Medicine. August 2021. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04902365. 
  24. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation For Visual Snow Syndrome (TMSVS). U.S. National Library of Medicine. 7 June 2021. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04925232. 
  25. Puledda, Francesca; Vandenbussche, Nicolas et al. (16 October 2021). "Evaluation of treatment response and symptom progression in 400 patients with visual snow syndrome". British Journal of Ophthalmology. doi:10.1136/bjophthalmol-2020-318653. https://bjo.bmj.com/content/early/2021/10/20/bjophthalmol-2020-318653. Retrieved 3 February 2022. 
  26. Grande, Marissa; Lattanzio, Lucas; Buard, Isabelle; McKendrick, Allison M.; Chan, Yu Man; Pelak, Victoria S. (2021). "A Study Protocol for an Open-Label Feasibility Treatment Trial of Visual Snow Syndrome with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation". Frontiers in Neurology 12. doi:10.3389/fneur.2021.724081. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2021.724081/full. 
  27. "VSI Update: Current & Ongoing Visual Snow Syndrome Research and Insights by Dr. Victoria Pelak". 5 September 2022. https://www.visualsnowinitiative.org/research/vsi-update-current-ongoing-visual-snow-syndrome-research-and-insights-by-dr-victoria-pelak/. 

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