Pioneering study tackles visual snow

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Dr Sui Wong is standing in a corridor, with a brick wall behind her. She is wearing  a black top and cardigan, and has her hands clasped in front of her. She is smiling.

Dr Sui Wong is leading the study

A new study by a team from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Moorfields Eye Hospital will examine the role of mindfulness in potentially helping people who have visual snow syndrome.

People with visual snow 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 a neurological condition which affects how the brain integrates the images people see.

Visual snow can be debilitating and is often associated with migraine and tinnitus. There is currently no effective treatment for visual snow.

The new study, funded by the Visual Snow Initiative, uses mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on people who have never previously practiced 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 and which was carried out by the same team, funded by Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, EyeHope and the Visual Snow Initiative. It featured an 8-week course of MBCT in small groups followed up 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.

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

Dr Wong said: “This research uses mindfulness training as a potential treatment for visual snow. 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.

“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.”

Aila Collins is wearing a beige rain jacket, and is standing in front of a lake. She has long, dark hair.

Patient Aila Collins

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

She said: “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.”

After finding out about Dr Wong’s initial trial, Aila undertook the 8-week course of guided mindfulness to help with her visual snow.

Aila added:

By the end of the 2 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.

People with visual snow can apply to take part in the new research. They should have severe visual snow as diagnosed by an ophthalmologist, neurologist or neuro-ophthalmologist and have not previously undertaken mindfulness. There is more information on the MBCT-vision website.

This research demonstrates collaboration across the NHS, with functional MRIs undertaken at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and the Institute of Neurology, University College London.

Last updated: November 2023

Contact us

Media enquiries
Phone: 020 7188 5577
Email: [email protected]