Bizarre visual phenomenon
May 11, 2009 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Occasionally, I experience a strange visual phenomenon that resembles a vortex of some sort...

... I distinctly remember experiencing it aged 14, and it repeatly resurfaces. It is very real, and to me suggests an illusion of depth, like a bubbly vortex or portal in the centre of my vision, moving in on itself and lasting for several minutes. I can't be the first to experience this apparently harmless apparition. So what is it?
posted by Acey to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a visual migrane.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:56 AM on May 11, 2009

I get something called an "optical migraine" which has to do with both low blood-oxygen (I'm a chronic asthmatic) and stress. During these times, I have no migraine symptoms (no pain/pressure/light sensitivity) EXCEPT that I get the tunnel vision and some other visual artifacts (like trying to see with your blindspot) that folks I know who have full-blown migraines seem to think resembles their visual symptoms.

I have an official diagnosis for it by a General Practitioner, but we never pursued it further to any specialists because (1) I stopped having the symptoms and (2) we lost momentum.

I haven't had one of these for about 11 years since I left Boston, MA. Which is odd, since now that I live in Maryland, my allergies, respiratory issues are worse. But maybe my stress isn't?

Anyway, my symptoms start with having a lot of motes in my vision (tiny black and white bullseyes drifting around in my field of vision), then escalates to having these discontinuous sort of fractures in my vision that are like blind spots but sort of linear, and finally I get tunnel vision and can occasionally lose vision entirely in one eye.

Treating with my usual asthma/allergy stimulants/antihistamines to treat the breathing problems also makes the vision problems go away.

On one rare occasion I also had a mild headache that went along with the vision issues that seemed to be related to an overall feeling of pressure in my sinuses.

My recommendation, though, is to go see a doctor about your issues.
posted by kalessin at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2009

I suppose I should add a via, since that thread had a lot more information about such things.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2009

MrMoonPie: sounds similar, though this is much less severe - I have to pay attention to really notice it, and it isn't accompanied by any discomfort. In fact, I've never even had a migraine (luckily!). I'll have a good read of the thread though, and report back.

kalessin: It sounds far less severe than what you experienced, so while I appreciate your concern, it's not something I'll be rushing to the doctor over. I do suffer from Lazy Eye (Amblyopia) so perhaps that's related. Most of all it's just an odd curiousity, particularly since it reoccurs in exactly the same form and I can't find any other description that matches it.
posted by Acey at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2009

I actually experienced an optical migraine for the first time this past weekend, and it was quite similar to what you described. For me, I had a "bright spot" in the center of my vision that appeared unexpectedly, and then had limited peripheral vision along with a jagged/shimmering effect in the center that lasted for about 30-45 minutes. For the next hour or so my vision seemed fine, but I had a general discomfort of a headache and slight nausea (nothing compared to the "regular" migraines I used to have in my teenage years - those knocked me out).
posted by shinynewnick at 10:50 AM on May 11, 2009

Holy shit! This is what I'm seeing!
posted by Acey at 11:02 AM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think I used to experience the same thing as a kid, especially in bed at night, staring at the ceiling. I would see swirling and fluctuating pinpoints of color--usually pink, purple, red--shifting. I have never discussed it with anyone in my adult life and haven't experienced it in many years.

posted by General Tonic at 12:09 PM on May 11, 2009

Sounds like a visual migraine to me. I've only had a few, and mine are less colorful than the flash demo linked above, but no less obstructive of my field of vision. A couple of times they put me in real danger--once i was driving and lost about half my field of vision in my left eye; another time I walked out into traffic I couldn't see--so I don't recommend ignoring the problem.
I noticed that, when these pop up, I get the same fizzy feeling in my head that often accompanies a more traditional migraine. YMMV, obviously, but that's a nice little Oh, that's what's going on cue for me, especially since they're not a frequent occurrence.

If you can afford it/have insurance, it's worth seeing a neurologist.
posted by willpie at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2009

OP: I have to pay attention to really notice it, and it isn't accompanied by any discomfort.

I experienced visual migraines with no accompanying pain for a year or so, and then, without warning, one day my aura was followed by severe migraine pain that lasted for several days. I'm not saying this is necessarily going to happen to you, but it's good to be aware that the nature of migraines can change.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:53 PM on May 11, 2009

I walk to and from work. On days when I'm walking with my head down, looking at the pavement in motion, sometimes I'll look up and the sky and see what your describing. The clouds seem to be bubbling and simultaneously advancing and receding. It's a retinal aftereffect of the movement, a/k/a the waterfall illusion.

Does it look like this? Because that's what I see.
posted by argybarg at 1:33 PM on May 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

argybarg: Basically I see that image I linked to described as a "form constant" but moving as the black and white grid does that you linked to. So perhaps it is indeed an aftereffect of motion. But that "form constant" is so uncannyily like what I see, I can only assume that it is linked at the nerve-level or something, since that specifically seems to be linked to consumption of peyote, etc.

As yet, I've experienced no pain, but I do get headaches from time to time of varying intensities, and coupled with my poor eyesight and the testimonies shared here, I think I'll get it checked out.

Thanks for the help, everyone. I think I'm a finally a step closer to solving this mystery.
posted by Acey at 2:13 PM on May 11, 2009

You might find some useful stuff at the Hypnaogia wikipedia page, linked from the page you linked to. As I understand it hypnagogic (before sleep) viusal hallucinations are commonest in childhood, but not exclusively so. As a child I would often experience hallucinations in the moments before sleep. These would take the form of a jeweled net, something similar to that described by General Tonic, these were moving and were took the form of a triangular grid which are another variation on the form constant. These faded with adolescence but I still occasionally suffer from Sleep Paralysis which brings other forms of hypnagogic hallucinations with it. There is apparently some evidence linking sleep apralysis with migraines but I have not suffered the later to my knowledge.
posted by tallus at 7:32 PM on May 11, 2009

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