What Causes Kaleidoscope Vision?

Bright, fractured vision is most often caused by migraines

Kaleidoscopes may be a favorite childhood toy, yet experiencing shapes and colors in your line of sight with no explanation can be scary.

Kaleidoscope vision is characterized by images that are disjointed, blurry, and brightly colored. They appear as if you’re looking through a kaleidoscope or broken glass, and can last for an hour or more. 

Most often, kaleidoscope vision is a symptom of ocular migraine or migraine with aura. It can all be associated with several conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke, and diabetes

Read on to learn about migraine auras, other possible causes, and when to be concerned about kaleidoscope vision.

a woman with her hand on her head feeling dizzy

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What Is Kaleidoscope Vision?

Kaleidoscope vision is exactly what it sounds like: Your line of vision suddenly looks as if you’re peering through a kaleidoscope. Unfortunately, there are no toys involved.

Instead, kaleidoscope vision is caused by neurological changes from migraines or other conditions. The symptoms most often present in both eyes, although you might experience kaleidoscope vision in just one eye or just one side of your line of vision.

Most episodes of kaleidoscope vision last for about 10 to 30 minutes but may last for up to an hour.

Signs and Symptoms

When you have kaleidoscope vision, you might experience:

  • Bright colors
  • Fractured images or geometric shapes that look as if you’re peering through broken glass
  • Blurry vision

You may or may not have symptoms of a headache or other signs of migraine with aura in addition to kaleidoscope vision. If the episode is caused by stroke you might experience signs and symptoms of stroke, including numbness on one side of the body, or confusion. 

Causes

Kaleidoscope vision is most commonly caused by an ocular migraine. Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes migraines, but they seem to be linked to neurological abnormalities. They run in families and can be triggered by stress, food, and other stimuli. 

Kaleidoscope vision can be a sign of more serious conditions, including brain injury and stroke, so it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you experience kaleidoscope vision for the first time.

Ocular Migraine

An oicular migraine is a migraine that’s characterized by vision changes. It may or may not include headaches. There are two types of ocular migraines:

  • Migraine with aura occurs in both eyes and is more likely to cause kaleidoscope vision. Speech and movement can also be affected, and you might experience tingling. These symptoms are temporary and harmless, but since they can mimic the signs of stroke it’s best to see a healthcare provider when they appear if you haven’t had migraine with aura in the past. 
  • Retinal migraine occurs in one eye, often causing vision loss or temporary blindness. It can lead to permanent vision loss, so be sure to consult your healthcare provider if you experience this. 

MS and Migraines

People with multiple sclerosis are 27% more likely to have migraines than people without MS. Because of the connection between MS and migraines, people with MS may be more likely to have episodes of kaleidoscope vision.

Diabetes

People with diabetes are more likely to have migraines, which may include kaleidoscope vision. Poorly controlled diabetes is also linked with eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy. This can cause changes to vision and kaleidoscope vision, especially at times when your blood sugar is high. 

Stroke or Brain Injury

Stroke and brain injury can both present with visual changes, which may include kaleidoscope vision. Because of this, it’s important to see your healthcare provider if you experience kaleidoscope vision for the first time. They’ll be able to rule out serious medical concerns and help you understand the causes of your episode. 

Treatment

Episodes of kaleidoscope vision resolve on their own, usually within an hour. Since migraines are the most common cause of kaleidoscope vision, treating and preventing migraines can keep episodes of kaleidoscope vision at bay. If you have migraines, you should:

  • Keep a symptom journal to identify triggers.
  • Avoid triggers and minimize stress where possible.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about a daily medication to prevent migraines.
  • Take your medication at the first sign of migraine or aura to interrupt an attack.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In most cases, an episode of kaleidoscope vision isn’t dangerous. However, it can be a sign of serious underlying conditions, including stroke, uncontrolled diabetes, or retinal migraines. Because of that, it’s important to see your healthcare provider after experiencing an episode of kaleidoscope vision, or if the vision changes last longer than an hour. They’ll rule out serious medical conditions, and help you develop a plan to treat or prevent migraines in the future. If you have symptoms of stroke, like numbness or confusion, call 911 immediately.

Summary

Kaleidoscope vision makes you feel like you’re looking through a kaleidoscope or broken glass. You might have blurred, brightly colored vision, and see geometric shapes. This is most often caused by migraines but can have more serious causes like stroke, so it’s best to reach out to your healthcare provider if you have an unexpected episode. 

A Word From Verywell 

Seeing the world shift and crackle in front of you can be scary, even if you’ve previously experienced migraines with aura. To ease your concern, remember that kaleidoscope vision is often harmless. Still, you should talk with your healthcare provider to make sure there’s nothing concerning that may have caused your episode. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can exercise cause kaleidoscope vision?

    Some people may see stars during exercise because of changes in blood pressure. However, if this happens frequently or if you experience kaleidoscope vision, you should stop exercising and speak with your healthcare provider. 

  • Does vitamin or mineral deficiency cause vision problems?

    If you’re not getting enough essential vitamins and minerals, you might experience vision problems. For example, being deficient in vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, which is linked with anemic retinopathy. That can cause vision changes or blurred vision.

  • Is there a way to get rid of kaleidoscope vision?

    Kaleidoscope vision usually goes away on its own within 10 to 60 minutes. If you have a history of migraines and migraine medication, taking it may help with kaleidoscope vision associated with migraine aura. However, there’s no tried and true way to get rid of kaleidoscope vision. 

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Optometrists.org. Kaleidoscope vision.

  2. American Migraine Foundation. Visual disturbances: related to migraine or not?

  3. Visioncenter.org. Kaleidoscope vision.

  4. Lin GY, Wang CW, Chiang TT, Peng GS, Yang FC. Multiple sclerosis presenting initially with a worsening of migraine symptoms. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2013;14(1):70. doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-70