Two hundred and forty-eight cases of visual snow: A review of potential inciting events and contributing comorbidities

Cephalalgia. 2021 Aug;41(9):1015-1026. doi: 10.1177/0333102421996355. Epub 2021 Feb 20.


Objective: To review characteristics and outcomes of all cases of visual snow seen at our institution, with attention to possible triggering events or comorbidities.

Methods: This is a retrospective case series of patients seen at our tertiary care center from January 1994 to January 2020. Charts were reviewed if they contained the term "visual snow".

Results: Of the 449 charts reviewed, 248 patients described seeing visual snow in part or all of their vision. Thirty-eight reported transient visual snow as their typical migraine aura. Of the remaining 210 patients, 89 were reported to have either an inciting event or contributing comorbidity for their visual snow symptoms, including: Post-concussion (n = 15), dramatic change in migraine or aura (n = 14), post-infection (n = 13), hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (n = 10), ocular abnormalities (n = 7), idiopathic intracranial hypertension (n = 4), neoplastic (n = 1), and posterior cortical atrophy (n = 1). Some patients had partial improvement with benzodiazepines (n = 6), lamotrigine (n = 5), topiramate (n = 3) and acetazolamide (n = 3). Presenting characteristics were similar, but patients with visual snow attributed to an inciting event or contributing comorbidity were more likely to have some improvement in their symptoms by last follow-up compared to spontaneous visual snow (p < .001).

Conclusions: Though most cases of visual snow are spontaneous, potential secondary causes should be recognized by clinicians. Patients who develop visual snow after an inciting event or related to an underlying comorbidity may have a better prognosis than those in whom it develops spontaneously. In select cases, treatment of the suspected underlying cause may significantly alleviate the otherwise typical intractable visual disturbances associated with visual snow.

Keywords: Prognosis; imaging; secondary; treatment; visual snow.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Migraine with Aura / epidemiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vision Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*