What Is Visual Snow?

(Last Updated On: October 18, 2019)

What Is Visual Snow?

If you didn’t grow up with a tablet computer in your hands, you might remember having an old, clunky CRT TV. You probably punched or kicked it a couple times to get it to properly tune in for nightly news. Regardless, you likely remember what happened when you weren’t tuned in to a specific channel. Don’t you think that dotty static that would be really irritating to see all the time? Well, it turns out there’s an actual condition called visual snow. So what is visual snow?

Visual Snow: Yes, it’s Real

So before we confuse you with a condition that sounds vaguely fake (or easy to conflate), we’re going to confirm that yes. Visual snow is real. 

Author’s Note: I suffer from this.

Granted, some don’t consider visual snow its own medical condition; rather associating those symptoms with something else. Symptoms can be mild or debilitating, but it’s generally noticeable for those who suffer from the condition. Generally speaking, visual snow is categorized as static overlaying your vision. If you don’t have the condition, imagine the static a CRT TV makes when it’s not tuned in on a channel.

It isn’t uncommon to see the following symptoms accompanying the static as well. Most consider these symptoms near synonymous with visual snow. 

  • Starbursts 
  • Afterimages
  • More floaters
  • Light trails
  • Visual anomalies common with migraine onset

Weirdly enough, visual snow shares comorbidity with tinnitus. You know, the disease known for weird ear ringing. We guess it kind of makes sense because the ringing is kind of like auditory snow? In spirit anyway. Also visual snow is comorbid with migraines and migraine auras as well. Some say the condition shares comorbidity with depression, anxiety, and other conditions of that ilk. It’s a little harder to find evidence of that last thing than the others though (granted research on visual snow is very limited).

What Causes Visual Snow?

Unfortunately, nobody really knows what exactly causes visual snow. Logically though, you can attribute it to visual noise. Which is a totally different thing, but thanks to scientists being super lazy, this is just how it is.

Symptoms associated with the condition are common to low-light conditions. Or at the very least, they’re more apparent in low-light conditions. 

The low-light part can be justified practically in some cases. We’re not saying that it makes visual snow a fake condition, this is likely just a justification for people who experience the phenomenon only in low-light and only mildly. Anyway; a little but on how your eye works.

You see mostly by detecting light through the use of rods and cones. The cones in your eyes are what allow you to see in brighter conditions. They’re far less sensitive than the rods. These rods are extremely photosensitive, and are used in low-light conditions. Your eyes switching input (this is vastly oversimplified) between rods and cones in part is why bright lights hurt more in the dark. 

Anyway, your rods can’t see in color. Why would they need to anyway? You’re in the dark. Basically, in some lighting conditions, you can end up not having enough photons entering your eye, but enough to make the photosensitive cells in your eyes hyperactive. Quite literally, they’re tuning in and getting no signal. So they flip out and you get static.

We don’t really have any other answers though. Having persistent visual snow doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your eyes, and obviously seeing the static when you’re looking at a lit, bright, white wall negates our previous statement. Turns out, the condition isn’t a problem in your eyeballs, they’re probably perfectly fine. It’s a neurological disorder. So… There’s not really a treatment. 

Maybe preventing snow from ever happening is a valid treatment. People aren’t doing a lot of research on it anyway. Let us know if it works here.



About Kyler 727 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.