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Visual snow syndrome: Could mindfulness hold the key to this ‘awful’ condition?

A new Moorfields Eye Hospital study will examine the potential role of mindfulness to eliminate the static-type images people experience with visual snow syndrome.

Only recently recognised as a legitimate condition, with visual snow people see persistent flickering white, black, transparent or coloured dots, which can appear like static from an old TV or as though they are looking through a snow globe. It is described as a neurological condition which affects how the brain integrates the images people see.

The condition can be debilitating and is often associated with migraine and tinnitus – and currently there are no effective treatments. At the 2023 RANZCO Congress in Perth, neuro-ophthalmology expert Dr Neil Miller said some patients respond to lifestyle modification, using dull paper, tinted glasses, lowering the ambient brightness in the room, and some respond to various medications neurologists prescribe, but this can be inconsistent.

The new Moorfields study, funded by the Visual Snow Initiative, will use mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on people who have never previously practised the technique. The aim is to see if this can re-train the brain of people with visual snow to remove their static-type images.

This builds on an earlier feasibility study published in the Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology carried out by the same team, funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, EyeHope and the Visual Snow Initiative. It featured an eight-week course of MBCT in small groups followed with functional MRI scans for some participants.

Participants reported improvements to their vision, and this was reflected in the results of the functional MRI scans.

Dr Sui Wong, consultant neurologist and neuro-ophthalmologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Moorfields, is leading the new study.

“Our feasibility study on functional MRI scans already showed it can improve visual snow symptoms, correlating with a change in the brain’s visual network – like a form of brain training to modify brain pathways,” she said.

“In the new study, we will test how mindfulness can improve the brain’s visual network to filter out the unwanted images to improve or resolve symptoms of visual snow syndrome.”

Ms Aila Collins, 29, took part in the initial study using mindfulness after she developed visual snow in 2018. A customer success manager from Tottenham in north London, said her symptoms developed during a stressful time in her life.

“Out of the blue, my vision went grainy, like television static and, over time, I also started seeing floaters, halos around lights, ghosting around objects, flashes, after-images and my vision was shaky. It was an absolutely awful experience. I was scared that I’d lose my vision,” she said.

After discovering Wong’s initial trial, Collins undertook the eight-week course of guided mindfulness to help with her visual snow.

“By the end of the two months I noticed some positive changes in the intensity of some of my symptoms. Dr Wong is an incredible woman who is absolutely dedicated to helping those impacted by visual snow,” she added.

More reading

Explaining Visual Snow Syndrome — A/Prof Clare Fraser

New treatment for Visual Snow Syndrome being presented at ACBO conference

 

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