Why Visual Snow Syndrome is Not a Migraine Variant

Understanding Features of This Rare Health Condition

Is Visual Snow Syndrome a Migraine Aura?
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Visual snow syndrome is a unique disorder in which a person has a persistent visual disturbance, usually that of continuous, flickering tiny dots or "snow" in their field of vision. Many people with visual snow syndrome also have migraines with or without auras. This has led to the thought that this syndrome may be a form of migraine or migraine aura. In fact, some are given the diagnosis of persistent migraine aura. But the truth is that this rare syndrome is its own health condition, it's not a migraine variant.

Visual Snow Syndrome As a Rare, Unique Syndrome

Scientific research supports this syndrome as a unique, distinct medical condition. It's not a variant of migraine with aura. It's also not a psychogenic disorder or a post-hallucinogenic flashback, which people have been erroneously diagnosed with in the past. The vast number of people with this rare disorder have no history of drug abuse and have normal eye and neurological exams. Also, their visual symptoms do not get better with traditional migraine therapies.

That being said, many people with visual snow syndrome do suffer from migraines with and without auras, and this may worsen their symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Visual Snow Syndrome?

These visual symptoms of this rare condition include:

  • floaters
  • flashes of light
  • impaired night vision
  • palinopsia — persistence of a visual image despite it being removed from the field of vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • tinnitus or ringing in the ears

Another common associated symptom of this syndrome is headache, which tends to occur at the start of a visual disturbance or as the visual disturbance is worsening.

Why Does This Syndrome Develop?

Scientists don't know for sure but people with this syndrome do have a brain abnormality in their lingual gyrus -- a structure in the back of the brain in the occipital lobe.

Is There Treatment for this Syndrome?

Doctors don't know yet how to treat this unique condition. One 2015 report in Headache of a patient with this syndrome found that Lamictal (lamotrigine), an anti-seizure medication, was effective in eliminating symptoms. It also helped decrease the number of migraine attacks she had per month. That being said, this was a study on one patient. Studies that look at a larger number of patients would be helpful.

What Does This Mean for Me?

If you think you might have vision snow syndrome, be sure to get it check out by your doctor. You need a proper eye exam and neurological exam to rule out other medical conditions. The good news is that now scientists know this syndrome is not a migraine variant, and is linked to a certain part of the brain. This will hopefully spur research into how to best treat this very real, but rare, health condition.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

View Article Sources
  • Schankin, C.J. & Goadsby, P.J. (2015), Visual snow--persistent positive visual phenomenon distinct from migraine aura. Current Pain and Headache Reports, Jun;19(6):23.
  • Schankin, C.J., Manlyar, F.H., Digre, K.B., & Goadsby, P.J. (2014). "Visual snow' - a disorder distinct from persistent migraine aura. Brain, 137(Pt 5):1419-28.
  • Schankin, C.J., et al. (2014). The relation between migraine, typical migraine aura and "visual snow." Headache, Jun;54(6):957-66.
  • Unal-Cevik, I. & Yidiz, F.G. (2015). Visual snow in migraine with aura: further characterization by brain imaging, electrophysiology and treatment - case report. Headache, Aug 26.