Visual snow syndrome is a rare neurological condition that causes static-like dots to appear in your field of vision. It can also sometimes occur during times of stress and anxiety, but not for everyone.
Visual snow syndrome is a rare condition that causes disturbances in a person’s vision. If you have visual snow syndrome, you may see small, flickering dots that resemble snow.
A close link between visual snow syndrome and anxiety has been discovered.
But what comes first? The anxiety or the visual snow syndrome?
The exact cause of the condition or whether anxiety causes visual snow or vice versa isn’t known, but there are ways to manage both.
Visual snow syndrome is a rare neurological disorder first recognized by scientists in 1995. It may be referred to as visual snow anxiety when it occurs during periods of anxiety.
The term “visual snow syndrome” was initially used to describe the phenomenon of people seeing tiny particles that resembled snow, static, or dots constantly flicker across their visual field during a migraine episode.
People also describe the experience as if they’re looking at static similar to what you see when looking at an analog TV with no broadcast.
The condition can make it challenging for you to do everyday activities such as driving, reading, or using screens. This, in turn, can impact your academic, social, and professional lives.
It was initially thought that the phenomenon was a type of migraine due to the similarity in symptoms. But it’s now considered a separate but closely related condition.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how many people have the condition, but some estimates say it may affect up to 2.2% of the population to some degree.
There’s currently no cure or approved treatment for the condition, and research on it is scarce because it’s so uncommon.
Researchers have recently discovered that people who experience visual snow syndrome also may have high levels of anxiety.
It’s unclear whether the condition causes anxiety or whether anxiety contributes to symptoms of visual snow syndrome. But it is clear that visual snow syndrome causes distress and greatly affects the quality of life of those with it, which could lead to anxiety or worsening of symptoms.
Even a condition as benign as eye floaters (those tiny dark specks that float across your vision that are entirely harmless) has caused anxiety in certain people, according to a
So it’s not hard to imagine that a condition that affects the vision to a greater degree could also cause anxiety.
The exact cause of visual snow syndrome isn’t yet known, partly due to little research on the condition.
But a 2022 review suggests that the visual cortex — the part of the brain that receives and processes visual information — plays an important role.
It was found that neurons in the visual cortex of people with visual snow syndrome are overly sensitive to visual information. As a result, these neurons tend to “misfire” and send signals to the brain when they usually wouldn’t.
The brain then interprets these signals as the snow or static-like dots commonly reported by people who experience visual snow syndrome.
The review also points to an area of the brain called the thalamus playing a role in this condition.
The thalamus relays visual information from the eyes to the visual cortex and helps filter unnecessary information. It’s suggested that the thalamus may be letting in too much visual information, and the brain doesn’t know how to process it correctly.
Certain factors that can trigger symptoms of visual snow syndrome include:
Up to 80% of people with visual snow syndrome also report having migraine episodes, suggesting a similar mechanism underlies both conditions.
Besides causing snow or static in the visual field, visual snow syndrome involves many other visual symptoms. Some examples of these include:
- sensitivity to bright light
- reduced night vision
- eye floaters
- flashes of light
- palinopsia (when you continue to see an image of an object after it has been removed from your sight)
- kaleidoscopic vision (when colors swirl together)
Although visual symptoms are the main features of the condition, there are also non-visual symptoms, such as:
There are currently no treatments approved for visual snow syndrome. But researchers and clinicians continue to explore possible treatments.
A 2022 review looked at how effective 44 different medications were in treating visual snow syndrome. Only two medications were somewhat effective: Lamotrigine (Lamictal) and topiramate (Topamax) — both commonly used to treat seizures.
In the review, lamotrigine improved symptoms in 22% of people with visual snow syndrome, and topiramate improved symptoms in 15% of them.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is another option that could be helpful with visual snow syndrome. It involves using magnetic fields to stimulate specific areas of the brain.
A 2020 study involving a small group of people with visual snow syndrome suggests that TMS could offer some benefits. But more extensive studies are needed to confirm these results.
In a 2016 review, a group of 32 people with visual snow syndrome saw improvement in symptoms after using tinted lenses that filtered yellow and blue colors. But the study didn’t use a placebo or control group, so it’s unclear how effective the treatment is.
In cases where visual snow syndrome occurs due to concussion or infection, treating the underlying cause may help reduce symptoms.
While visual snow syndrome is unlikely to go away on its own, the condition doesn’t seem to get worse over time.
In a 2021 study, people with the condition the longest reported the least distress from their symptoms.
Certain lighting conditions seem to make symptoms worse, according to the study. These include dimly lit environments, harsh artificial light, darkness, and bright sunlight.
If you have visual snow syndrome, try to avoid driving at night. Wearing sunglasses can also help reduce light sensitivity.
Many people report seeing improvement after making certain lifestyle changes, including:
- getting enough sleep
- avoiding or reducing caffeine and alcohol
- regular exercise (although it can worsen symptoms in the short term, in the long run, it could be beneficial)
- improving diet
- meditation and reducing stress
People also reported their symptoms lessened after accepting or “learning to ignore” them.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, some strategies you can try to reduce your anxiety include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps replace negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones
- medications, including anti-anxiety medications
- joining a support group
- stress management techniques, such as meditation and exercise
Visual snow syndrome is a rare condition that causes people to see tiny flickering dots in their vision. Experts aren’t sure what causes it, but research suggests that visual processing centers are likely involved.
It’s too early to say whether visual snow syndrome causes anxiety or vice versa. But as more research comes out, how anxiety relates to the condition will become clearer.
There’s currently no cure or approved treatment options for visual snow syndrome. But the condition is unlikely to worsen, and people who have it report being better able to deal with symptoms as time progresses.
If you have visual snow syndrome, you may see improvement in your symptoms by getting good sleep, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding bright or dimly-lit lighting conditions.