Eric Niquette UI, UX, Accessibility

Aeropsia, the neurological disorder also known as Visual Snow Syndrome

Published

I've only recently learned of a disorder that causes constant static-like noise and other visual artifacts, but there's nothing actually wrong with my eyes; it's all happening in my head.

Introduction

I've only recently come to realize that the way I've been looking at the world may be atypical. That the noise-like static, the dark splotches, and the trailing blurs are all possible symptoms of a condition known as Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS), about which we know relatively little.

What is Visual Snow Syndrome?

Also known as aeropsia, Visual Snow Syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes persistent or temporary visual hallucinations typically resembling static noise or splotches that can move, flash, or otherwise appear or disappear in certain conditions.

Despite aeropsia's impact to sight, it is not a defect of the eye; in other words, there is nothing wrong with the eye itself but instead in the way the brain processes its signals.

Little is known on the exact cause but it's generally believed that the area of the brain responsible for image processing is overtly responsive, senstive, or otherwise hyperactive. This over-stimulation results in the person's brain producing things that aren't there. In this case, noise and other visual artifacts.

A rough approximation of the noise pattern I see on a white panel.

Subsets

While there are conflicting thoughts on actual VSS symptoms and its diagnosis, the general consensus seems to be these are typically manifestions via continuous noise-like static, splothes of black, white, or of varying colors, and/or a snowglobe-like effect where opaque white spots continually drift or flash. In some cases, these spots can be quite large and obstruct vision.

Several other forms of VSS have also been reported, with varying degrees of severity that range from relatively minor to debilitating and significantly impairing vision.

Symptoms

While visual aberrations are the primary symptom of Visual Snow Syndrome, individuals often experience a range of other sensory processing issues. These vary widely, with some reporting only one or two additional symptoms, while others experience dozens. Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Image trailing
  • Afterimages
  • Image ghosting
  • Visual artifacts, also known as "eye floaters"
  • Impaired night vision
  • Tinnitus

Individuals may also experience a variety of other symptoms related to sensory processing such as vertigo, dizziness, sensitivity to bright lights, and more.

The Ganzfeld effect and Eigengrau

The visual effects of the Ganzfeld effect and Eigengrau are, as is my understanding, one of the many possible symptoms of VSS rather than the condition itself. In other words, you can perceive the Ganzfeld effect but not qualify as suffering from aeropsia.

From what I could find, VSS is typically diagnosed when several symptoms are present together, like a flu typically requires the presence of a cough, a fever, and other symptoms whereas a cold does not.

Visual noise could be attributed to the Ganzfeld effect or Eigengrau.

Co-occurring neurological conditions

Visual Snow Syndrome is often associated with several other neurological issues. Many who experience VSS also commonly report conditions such as ADHD, tension headaches, migraines, tinnitus, and anxiety.

However, conflicting research reports no correlation between VSS and these conditions. The concept of correlation vs causation may be applicable.

Cause

Aeropsia is classified as a neurological disorder, acquired at birth or following a traumatic head or brain injury. However, the exact cause of the condition remain uncertain, and there are no definitive answers regarding its origin.

There have also been reports of VSS symptons appearing following the use of hallucinogenic drugs, during pregnancy, or due to disease or illness.

Prevalence

Visual Snow Syndrome affects an estimated 2 to 3% of the population but remains a relatively obscure condition. Due to its limited awareness, invidivuals may unknowingly be living with the disorder without ever realizing or reporting on it.

Spreading awareness

Given how little is known of aeropsia, my hope is that this outline can provide a clear, albeit simplified, understanding of the condition, raise awareness, and offer solace to those who might be experiencing similar symptoms.

I've provided a few resources below that may be worth checking out if you're interested in finding help and resources on dealing with VSS.

Other resources

Visual snow syndrome: A clinical and phenotypical description of 1,100 cases

Francesca Puledda, Christoph Schankin, Peter J. Goadsby | Neurology.org

What is Visual Snow Syndrome?

Eye on Vision Foundation

Visual snow syndrome

Wikipedia

Ganzfeld effect

Wikipedia