What was this occular disturbance I experienced?
January 31, 2014 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Last night I experienced a strange optical disturbance/illusion/vision problem. What's that all about, and should I be concerned?

So last night while sending/receiving a few texts, I had the distinct impression that the (flat) surface of my phone was three dimensional. It had a wavy characteristic, as if it was able to undulate, or was, say, blowing in the wind.

The letters I was texting/reading were clear. The letters themselves weren't stretched, compressed or wavy. It was just the surface.

Some additional facts:
-- It was late and I was tired.
-- I had spent a lot of time gazing at computer screens yesterday, which is usual for me.
-- I wear glasses. I'm nearsighted, but am in a transitional stage where I'll soon be needing bifocals or reading glasses, per my optometrist. For now I'm just taking my glasses off to read things up close.
-- I don't remember if I was wearing my glasses while experiencing this illusion, but I think I wasn't. (Which would be typical for me when doing something up close, like texting.)
-- I have astigmatism.
-- I'm a migraneur, but I haven't had a full migraine in a few years. I do get a black & white flashing aura, with or without migraine, from time to time, but it did not resemble what I experienced last night.
-- I have slightly high blood pressure which is controlled by medication.
-- I'm in my mid-40s.
-- My paternal grandfather had macular degeneration that manifested when he was in his mid-80s or so.
-- I am slightly overdue for an eye exam, which I do plan to take care of shortly. Do i need to really hustle on this? (Complication: will be needing to find a new optometrist/opthamologist. I do have insurance.)
-- I'm female.

(Anon because I'm trying to keep all mentions of my health/physical self separate from my Metafilter identity, for privacy reasons.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Possibly a scintillating scotoma? They tend to look transparent and wobbly.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:33 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know, but you can't be too careful either with your eyes, or with visual disturbances which could be originating in your brain and, therefore, from your vascular system. Which you also need to be careful with.

In the UK we have "NHS direct" which is a helpline for people who can't figure out if they need to see a doctor or not. If you have any equivalent service available to you, you should call them.

I once had a brief visual disturbance that really scared me until an optometrist explained that it was a hallucination that didn't signify anything. I also get migraines with aura. In your position, I would still check with a medical professional.
posted by tel3path at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2014

Sounds a bit like an ocular migraine to me (they aren't always accompanied by head pain, aura, or other migraine symptoms). I experienced my first one (and then a few more) this summer. Mostly they are just inconvenient, not dangerous.

I would not freak out right now, but I would definitely try to see an opthalmologist within the next couple of weeks (in case it is something more serious).
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:40 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have definitely had this type of hallucination when I was very, very tired.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:49 PM on January 31, 2014

I had something like this a few years ago that was diagnosed as vitreous detachment. It's a harmless part of aging, and happens earlier in those of us who are near-sighted. You eye doctor will be able to see if this was happening.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:53 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds a bit like an ocular migraine to me

My dad gets ocular migraines. This is how he described them when they first started. (They have, over the course of about 15 years, gotten progressively worse.) He doesn't have anything more than a light headache associated with them, but he does have hallucinatory symptoms. Sometimes they can last up to an hour. :(
posted by phunniemee at 3:21 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get ocular migraines, and this doesn't sound like that. I wouldn't have been able to read the text on the phone on the bits beneath the aura.

But when I am tired and it's late, and the light is dim, I sometimes feel like the carpet or the wall is undulating. I assume it's a hallucination brought on by tiredness. Kind of how sometimes when you are very tired you briefly feel like you are falling and then jerk awake. I think of this as my eyeballs doing the same sort of thing. But that is entirely a made up explanation. If you are worried, it can't hurt to mention it to your doctor or optometrist next time you see them.
posted by lollusc at 3:43 PM on January 31, 2014

I wouldn't necessarily count out something more severe, especially if this happens under different circumstances than the ones your described, but I have an odd schedule which frequently leaves me somewhat sleep deprived, and that alone has triggered similar experiences for me. Spending a long time focusing on an illuminated surface seems to exacerbate the effect. It also happens sometimes if I am exhausted and focus on a patterned surface - the octagonal tiles on my bathroom floor seem to raise, undulate, or resolve themselves into three dimensional shapes. It isn't painful and I don't find it very disruptive, and the symptoms abate once I get enough sleep.

I am also nearsighted, and seem to be on the cusp of needing bifocals, although for now I perch my glasses on my head when I need to see something tiny.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:19 PM on January 31, 2014

I get ocular migraines too, and they don't sound like that to me, either. When I get them, parts of my field of vision are smeared and I can't read anything. It's like a mostly-translucent wall made of spinning triangles of stained glass is superimposed over my field of view.
posted by Andrhia at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding hydropsyche's suggestion that this could be a harbinger of vitreous detachment, but sometimes the vitreous humor can take the retina with it when it pulls away from the back of the eye.

I'd say book an appointment and stay away from cannabinoids and aspirin in the interim.
posted by jamjam at 4:38 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get ocular migraines, and this doesn't sound like that.

I get ocular migraines too, and they don't sound like that to me, either.

According to both my neuro-opthalmologist (who manages my ocular migraines) and my own research, everyone who gets ocular migraines experiences and describes them a bit differently. What OP describes sounds similar to the ocular migraines I've had before. I see no reason to discount this possibility simply because your own experiences have been different. (OP should, of course, see a medical professional for a final diagnosis.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd make an appointment with your eye doctor but not worry too much about this unless it happens again. I had a vitreous detachment which was a bit different from what you experienced but wasn't serious, though it worried me at the time.

You should read Oliver Sacks' book, Hallucinations while you're waiting to see the eye doctor. The explanation for all sorts of visual phenomena is in that little gem of a book.
posted by aryma at 10:30 PM on January 31, 2014

The book I described has a lot of information on ocular migraines, as well.
posted by aryma at 10:32 PM on January 31, 2014

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