Author: Vanessa Mora
Role: Director of Research at VSI
Click here to view the original cosmopolitan article here: Visual snow syndrome: symptoms, anxiety links and seriousness (cosmopolitan.com)
Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS) was the day’s theme for the body and health section in the Cosmopolitan story published on March 9, 2022. Cosmopolitan Magazine, one of the most widely circulated women’s publications, has shown the media may effectively convey health promotion and public awareness while providing an exciting read (2). The media provides physicians, healthcare professionals, the scientific community, and the general public insight and initial exposure to Visual Snow Syndrome. However, it is critical to evaluate blogs, articles, and advice from a research perspective to prevent the spread of false or misleading health information (9). Although the article produced significant exposure to Visual Snow Syndrome, there are limitations related to the accuracy of information, citation, and accompanying links where some redirect to products or unrelated topics. Therefore it is hoped that this critical analysis gives readers a better understanding of Visual Snow Syndrome and how mainstream articles can sometimes undermine the facts.
In the article “Visual Snow Syndrome is a seriously misunderstood condition- here’s everything you need to know,” Jennifer Savin, UK’s Features Editor, examined VSS under clear and structured headlines: “What is Visual Snow Syndrome?, What are the symptoms of Visual Snow Syndrome?, Is there a cure or treatment for visual snow, and what can you do to treat or cure visual snow?”. The article’s title and headlines are relatively brief and provide public awareness of the condition by mentioning VSS, however the title does not communicate “everything we need to know” (6) about VSS. Instead , an overview is offered via the perspective and knowledge of the All about Vision Medical Reviewer, Dr. Shane Kannarr, rather than multiple “eyesight experts” (6) or brain experts such as neuro-ophthalmologists and neurologists. However, VSS is a neurological condition that does not affect the structural integrity of the eyes (1).
VSS is not “exceedingly rare” (6) but rather a frequently misdiagnosed neurological condition characterized by visual and non-visual disturbances, with visual snow as the primary symptom (1). Visual snow is described as continuous dots or static across an individual’s vision; the presence of visual snow for more than three months and at least 2 of the additional visual symptoms are required for VSS diagnosis (7):
Additional Visual Symptoms include:
- Blue field entoptic phenomenon,
- Photopsia (7)
While not included among the syndrome’s diagnostic criteria, VSS patients often also experience non-visual symptoms such as (4):
- Brain fog,
- Concentration difficulty,
- Migraines with or without aura,
- Tremors (4,8)
The author and Dr. Kannarr states, “visual snow has been loosely associated with stress, anxiety, and hallucinogenic drugs,” (6) but exposure to hallucinogenic drugs, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), leads to a separate syndrome known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD) (7). As a result, VSS is neither caused nor associated with hallucinogenic drugs, and such individuals are excluded from VSS research studies since they are considered possible HPPD patients (8). In contrast, VSS has been linked to depression, stress, anxiety, fatigue, disturbed sleep, depersonalization, and post-concussions (4). The article also states that “some have linked it to ADHD,” (6) but the author did not include a citation for this statement or the person who asserted it.
Additionally, the author refers to VSS as “eye tinnitus,” (6) although the correct terminology was proposed in a 2016 research by Lauschke et al., who theorized visual snow syndrome to be a thalamocortical dysrhythmia (TCD) of the visual pathway (3). Oscillatory network activity is a defining feature of the thalamocortical system, and any change in these oscillations is referred to as TCD (1). Tinnitus, migraines, and tremors have all been linked to TCD (3). Furthermore, recent research found that VSS patients have altered brain oscillations during visual processing, which is compatible with hypotheses of TCD (1). As a result, many of the comorbidities associated with visual snow syndrome, such as tinnitus, decreased focus, tiredness, anxiety, depression, tremors, and balance difficulties, are explained (3).
Dr.Kannarr states, “ antidepressants and nerve pain medication can minimize symptoms,”(6) but it is important to note no patient has reported complete resolution, improvement, or worsening of VS symptoms (4). There is no direct evidence that all antidepressants or nerve pain medications effectively treat persistent visual disturbances, including VS (10). Therefore, this statement needs to be adequately researched and clarified in addition to Dr.Kannarr’s perspective.
Additionally, It is mentioned by the author “there is still little research into visual snow,” (6) however VSS awareness is rapidly expanding through social media platforms (5). More organizations and studies are being conducted to better understand VSS and how it affects patient quality of life (1). As people are commonly misdiagnosed or are unaware of the condition,measuring the global population affected by VSS is difficult; nevertheless, a study report by Kondziella et al. claims that the UK prevalence of visual snow syndrome is at 2% (5).
Furthermore, the article emphasizes product advertisement, with links inserted in specific keywords and some subjects irrelevant to VSS. A link, for example, is embedded in the phrase “anxiety.” It takes you to a new tab with “21 anxiety relief products to help you feel calmer,” (6) including CBD oil, puzzles, a scarf, and other items, but the page does not state if research supports it. Furthermore, when you click on “managing stress,” you are redirected to a different article titled “How stress and anxiety impact your sex life,” (6) which overlooks the mention of VSS and gives extra connections to sexual items. Another link that stated “mindfulness techniques” advertises “21 gift ideas for self-care and mindfulness,” (6) unrelated and unproven to improve VSS symptoms.
- Fraser, C. L. (2022). Visual snow: Updates on pathology. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 22(3), 209–217. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-022-01182-x
- Gupta, A., Zimmerman, T., & Fruhauf, C. (2008). Relationship advice in the top selling women’s magazine, Cosmopolitan: A Content Analysis. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 7(3), 248–266. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332690802237987
- Hepschke, J. L., Seymour, R. A., He, W. A., Etchell, A., Sowman, P. F., & Fraser, C. (2021). Cortical oscillatory dysrhythmias in visual snow syndrome: A Meg Study. Cortical Oscillatory Dysrhythmias in Visual Snow Syndrome: A MEG Study. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.17.444460
- Klein, A., & Schankin, C. J. (2021). Visual Snow Syndrome as a network disorder: A systematic review. Frontiers in Neurology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.724072
- Kondziella, D., Olsen, M. H., & Dreier, J. P. (2020). Prevalence of visual snow syndrome in the UK. European journal of neurology, 27(5), 764–772. https://doi.org/10.1111/ene.14150
- Savin, J. (2022, March 10). Ever see spots or dots? here’s all you need to know about visual snow syndrome. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/health/a39383027/visual-snow/
- Schankin, C. J., Maniyar, F. H., Digre, K. B., & Goadsby, P. J. (2014). ‘Visual snow’ – a disorder distinct from persistent migraine aura. Brain : a journal of neurology, 137(Pt 5), 1419–1428. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awu050
- Solly, E. J., Clough, M., Foletta, P., White, O. B., & Fielding, J. (2021). The psychiatric symptomology of visual snow syndrome. Frontiers in Neurology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2021.703006
- Suarez-Lledo, V., & Alvarez-Galvez, J. (2021). Prevalence of Health Misinformation on Social Media: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 23(1), e17187. https://doi.org/10.2196/17187
- Yoo, Y.J., Yang, H. K., Choi, J.-Y., Kim, J.-S., & Hwang, J.-M. (2020). Neuro-ophthalmologic findings in visual snow syndrome. Journal of Clinical Neurology, 16(4), 646. https://doi.org/10.3988/jcn.2020.16.4.646