You’re watching a program on an older television, and soon, it’s overtaken by static. This is what someone with Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS) experiences regularly. VSS is a rare neurological disorder where the entire visual field is obstructed by small flickering dots similar to TV static or snow. The dots are most often black and white, but they may also appear colored, flashing, or transparent. Its onset occurs in much younger individuals than other neurological disorders, and children can be impacted. The majority of VSS sufferers also report other visual and neurologic phenomena including:
- Palinopsia, or the persistence or reoccurrence of an image in time
- Light sensitivity or visual processing problems
- Difficulty seeing in dim light or at night
- Other visual effects from the eye, like floaters
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
It is only within the last several years that the medical community has come to accept VSS as a diagnosis. Until recently, it was frequently misdiagnosed, most often as a migraine aura. The cause is not well understood, but it is believed to stem from an issue with visual processing in the brain cortex and not a problem with vision itself. Because visual snow is a relatively new and poorly understood condition, there is currently no standardized treatment for it. However, some individuals may benefit from medications or other interventions that target underlying conditions, such as migraines or anxiety. Others may find relief from avoiding triggers, such as bright lights or stressful situations, or from practicing relaxation techniques. Interventions that focus on filtering visual stimuli through colored lenses and regulating brain activity in the visual cortex can reduce visual snow for some individuals, while at the same time addressing related concerns such as light sensitivity, migraines, and anxiety, but will not usually completely resolve the visual snow. More research is needed to both understand the syndrome and the treatments available. If you believe you or your child are experiencing VSS, you may need to consult an ophthalmologist or neurologist for diagnosis.