Why do I see weird shapes when I'm getting sick?
January 17, 2018 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Sometimes when I'm getting sick, one of the first symptoms to manifest is perceiving recurring patterns of weird shapes in motion. Help me understand what's going on.

It doesn't affect my actual vision, it's "inside my head" that I'm seeing it. It's hard for me to describe visually as the shapes are fleeting but one of them is ominous rows of rounded cubish shapes that are constantly combining and splitting into larger and smaller versions of themselves.

I've always associated these visions with a feeling of off-ness and dread, not sure if that's because I usually get a cold or the flu after them or inherent to the visions themselves. Maybe both, I find the shapes themselves a bit unsettling.

It almost always happens at night before bed and the next day I'll wake up feeling ill. It usually only lasts a minute but sometimes will recur over 30 min or so.

Is this some weird form of synesthesia responding to more subtle symptoms? A low fever cooking my visual cortex?

Dunno if it's sleep related, I tend to get sick when I'm short on sleep, but I usually get 6-8 hours a night
posted by JauntyFedora to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd assume inner ear related, with a form of dizziness or vertigo causing geometric spots behind your eyes. I say this as someone who's inner ears are crazy dysfunctional; I basically live on Sudafed, and a disturbance in the force that is my ear canals is the first sign of basically any illness.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 PM on January 17, 2018


That sounds a lot like a pre-migraine aura to me.

Here are some youtube videos that come a little bit close to what I see

1
2
posted by Tabitha Someday at 2:28 PM on January 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


I don't have any idea what causes it, but I have this too.
posted by Missense Mutation at 2:39 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yes, it sounds like a migraine aura. You might have aura without headache (I do!), and lack of sleep/stress/general illness is a common migraine trigger. Do they go away if you close one eye?
posted by basalganglia at 2:40 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Tabitha Someday: what I have going on doesn't overlay on top of my vision, it's in addition to, completely in my head. It's more like a black void with shapes moving inside. The shapes are also much more complex and ordered.

basalganglia: Do they go away if you close one eye?

Not sure, I'd have to try it next time it happens. Both of my brothers get migraines but as far as I know I don't, not the headache part anyways.
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:51 PM on January 17, 2018


IANAD Phosphenes can be induced by applying pressure to the retina. Maybe inflammation from impending illness is in play?
posted by carmicha at 3:13 PM on January 17, 2018


Look up “scintillating scotoma,” is that it?
posted by FergieBelle at 3:32 PM on January 17, 2018


I experience closed-eye visuals a lot and I have ever since I was a kid. In spite of the name, they can overlay or happen in addition to seeing stuff with your eyes open. Here's the wikipedia on it, to see if that's similar to your experience.

They do seem to shift significantly in form and speed when I'm stressed. I've never experienced a 'pre-cursor to illness' shift, but it's interesting that you do. I'll have to keep an eye out for that.
posted by ananci at 3:46 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


carmicha: It doesn't affect my eye directly like a phosphene, I'm perceiving it not seeing it.

FergieBelle: No, I already addressed migraine auras/scintillating scotomas above.

Ananci: It sounds a little like CEV, specifically levels 3/4 mentioned on that Wiki page:

Level 3: When lying down at night and closing the eyes, right before sleep the complex motion of these patterns can become directly visible without any great effort thanks to hypnagogic hallucination. The patterns themselves might resemble fractals.

Level 4: "When this level is reached, the CEV noise seems to calm down and fade away, leaving behind an intense flat ordered blackness."

So basically greyscale Level 3 inside a black void of Level 4? There's definitely a cube fractal-esque component to the shapes and their movement.
posted by JauntyFedora at 4:05 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I had these when I was a small child and they resembled weird shapes like gallstones (I saw some pics in a medical book years later, and was bemused by the resemblance.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:32 PM on January 17, 2018


I think I also have it — I can get sick without having the visions, but if I do have the visions then I’ll be sick (with a fever) within 24hrs guaranteed.
posted by aramaic at 5:00 PM on January 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


I also had these as a kid, most alarmingly in feverish nightmares made up entirely of black and white moving geometric shapes. I rarely still experience similar sensations as an adult. I recall it was the way they replicated and expanded that was most distressing.

I can't offer any advice as to what they are or how to stop them, but I can tell you that you're not alone in this experience. (And now I know I'm not alone either!)
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:11 PM on January 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


This happens to me too!! I got so excited reading this post that I had to come corroborate.

I've experienced scintillating scotomas too, and this is distinctly different – for me it's like a fractal set of nested cubes (grey/white on black background), and my mind/vision will zoom in-and-out on the fractal at speeds that alarmed me when I was a kid. Always corresponded to some kind of sickness, not always with a fever though. I had always thought they were stress dreams, but the CEV descriptions also match pretty closely for me.
posted by =d.b= at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have this sort of experience when I have a fever. For me that's not usually the first sign of illness though.
posted by lollusc at 5:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


they resembled weird shapes like gallstones

That's not far off! When I see them in rows I think they're more cubic but some of the other things I see are less so

I also had these as a kid, most alarmingly in feverish nightmares made up entirely of black and white moving geometric shapes. I rarely still experience similar sensations as an adult. I recall it was the way they replicated and expanded that was most distressing.

Yes! Never in color, and there's definitely something unnerving about the motion/replication. Like something unstoppable growing and spreading.

for me it's like a fractal set of nested cubes (grey/white on black background), and my mind/vision will zoom in-and-out on the fractal at speeds that alarmed me when I was a kid.

I don't think mine are nested but otherwise yes yes yes.

I can get sick without having the visions, but if I do have the visions then I’ll be sick (with a fever) within 24hrs guaranteed.

Pretty much, fever optional but likely.
posted by JauntyFedora at 6:58 PM on January 17, 2018


Mostly cubes for me. And only when I have a fever. This has happened for as long as I can remember. I wonder what the mechanism is that creates them?
posted by ereshkigal45 at 7:18 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is so weird and definitely one of those fever dreams i had as a kid.fwiw I have also had aura migraines with no pain.
posted by aetg at 8:08 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Do you ever read a book at night?

This is going to sound weird, but I lie down and night and close my right eye to read. So I am reading only with my left eye for a while. I don't even realize I am doing it.

Then, when I shut the light off, I am virtually blind in my right eye, and it freaks me out, because there is a light in the living room beyond my bedroom.

But the bedroom is dark and when both eyes are open, I feel like I am going blind, because my right eye can't see the light, but my left I can see it.

And after a while, it adjusts. So maybe it's something like that. Just saying.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:30 PM on January 17, 2018


I had a very similar experience to Mr.Encyclopedia. I have vivid memories of how distressing they were, but haven't experienced anything like it in decades.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:32 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I used to have similar dreams as a child, usually when I had a fever, and they were terrifying. Impossible to describe. Along with the shapes I also recall confinement and squeezing as I shifted among them. As an adult I’ve felt similar sensations of confinement and squeezing, also when ill, when drifting off to sleep, but never the full visual experience.

No answer here either, just chiming in to share.
posted by notyou at 10:02 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Heinrich Kluver in 1926 dosed volunteers with mescaline and found that there were consistent visualizations seen across individuals. He dubbed them "form constants," and categorized them into four groups: tunnels, spirals, lattices, and cobwebs. There's a published paper by Paul C. Bressloff that posits that these "form constants" categorized by Heinrich Kluver in 1926 are determined by the actual physical structure of the primary visual cortex. In the visual cortex, there are layers of neurons that perform different functions related to the visual pathway, and by stimulating different areas of the retina you can see different sets of these neurons in the layers fire. These sets of neurons may respond specifically to various edge shapes, or textures, or patterns. Sometimes the neurons activate on their own from unusual mental states (most prominently, drug use) and generate their own images and patterns. The brain does this occasionally, like when you hear voices when you're about to fall asleep.

So perhaps since you have a somewhat altered mental state when you're beginning to fall ill, the lower threshold of stimulus activates your visual cortex in way that produces these geometric, spiraling fractal patterns.
posted by Iron Carbide at 10:57 PM on January 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


Iron Carbide, that's really interesting! I don't think any of their examples look just like what I see, as I don't think mine are in radial patterns, but still very similar.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2018


Oh and thanks to everyone who chimed in to say they have this too, it's nice knowing this weirdness isn't all mine.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:42 AM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can see something similar, but for me it's not related to illness. The only requirement is being in the dark. It's somewhat like Level 3 CEV, except my eyes are usually open. (I can experience it with my eyes closed, but it's not as good.) Also, what I perceive is almost always in color, and there is movement -- the simple objects change shape and color and move around. There's usually a kind of geometrical or regular arrangement to the visualizations.

I've been able to "see" this as far back as I can remember. Once as a child at a sleepover I mentioned something about the "pretties" to my friends and discovered most people don't experience this.

So interesting to learn of these related phenomena and speculate what's going on in my brain.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:17 AM on January 19, 2018


What a good thread. I did not know this was something others experience. When I am stressed and exhausted I will sometimes see quite beautiful lattices or cobwebs that appear in bright appealing colors. I like seeing them - though not at the cost of feeling zonked. The first time I saw one was perhaps five years ago (I am in my fifties) and they appeared randomly, only for a relatively short interval of a few months. And my sister has migraines, though I never have. Although I am as stressed as I was then, they did not come back.
posted by jet_silver at 7:30 PM on January 19, 2018


« Older Blue Apron while working full-time: surely this is...   |   What should I make for my neighbors who've... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.