The color of a television tuned to a dead channel
September 12, 2023 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I've always wanted to ask about this here but it seemed chatty, so thank you to the fundraiser for giving me the opportunity! I'm curious about other people's experience of visual snow, constant static noise over the entire visual field. Science doesn't seem to have made many strides in the 20+ years since I realized not everyone has this, so anecdata is the best we can do!

I still don't totally believe, but am reliably informed, that many people (even most people???) don't see static. If you do, how long have you had it? Do you have any theories, or comorbidities that you think are related? Has a doctor told you anything that sounds plausible? Has it gotten worse with age, or for any other reason? Are we definitely sure that other people can't see it, or is that a large-scale prank?
posted by babelfish to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They're here...
posted by y2karl at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2023

Could you be more specific about what you mean by "see static"?
posted by bricoleur at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2023

Oh, I see. You're not talking about a television at all.
posted by bricoleur at 7:07 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I got hit in the head by a baseball once when I was a kid. I saw orange and black static for a bit afterwards. This is my contribution to the thread.
posted by sacrifix at 7:09 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

When I was very young, like three years old or maybe even younger, I used to see visual noise in the dark, especially when I was sick. I called it "the dot family."
I don't really think about it much as an adult; I see it when I look for it, but in bright light, it's easy enough to ignore, so I usually do.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:10 PM on September 12, 2023 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The link goes to a handy simulator, for people who "see normal" (fake idea)
posted by babelfish at 7:14 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

When I was a youth I had something like at the link, except with no motion. If I focussed I could "see" something like pixels. I don't know if they correspond to (groups of?) rods and cones or what, but I can still do it a little.
posted by rhizome at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2023

I mean, if I stop and think about it, yes my vision (especially in the evening, in dimmer light) looks like that simulator. But most of the time I'd say my brain just filters it out.
posted by stray at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'm inferring--since you don't quite say--that you see visual snow a la poorly tuned CRT TV on a UHF channel all the time? I don't experience that and I've never heard anyone suggest it before.

I feel like there's something a little bit like it if I close my eyes. But that seems to be mostly the mishmash of negative images of the bright spots from my recent field of vision. Maybe you're extra sensitive to that, so that you see it even when your eyes are open?
posted by polecat at 7:45 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I see static when I stand up too quickly and get dizzy - usually I can't see for a moment and all I see is static, and then it fades away. Also once I fainted and couldn't see, and if I opened my eyes I only saw static. It's not a consistent thing, though - I've only experienced it in short bursts.
posted by catcafe at 7:48 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I see something like this, but only when I close my eyes. The size, shape, and speed change depending on the antidepressants I’m on.

But no, I’ve never seen this with my eyes open.
posted by Ookseer at 7:48 PM on September 12, 2023

I have very intense visual snow in the dark, so thick that I can't really make out any shapes or anything in the dark but brightly colored dots. I also get it in low lit rooms and if I attempt to notice it I usually can. Not wearing my glasses makes it worse, or at least makes me notice it more. As a child I was able to "will" the snow into making various shapes as I fell asleep but I can't do that anymore. I get migraines (without visual aura) and have assumed they're correlated.

I've heard these called "prisoners hallucinations" or "closed eye visualizations" which don't actually require your eyes to be closed to experience. As a kid I went to multiple eye doctors because of "the fuzzies" (which is what I called the snow) and that never really went anywhere. I did have a lot of tests done on my eyes but everything was "normal" so I just learned to live with it.
posted by twelve cent archie at 7:50 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

To add to my earlier answer, I do have some visual noise all the time, but it's mild enough that bright-enough-to-read light levels usually wash it out. I get scintillating scotomas, I have to be careful about glare, and I found out like two years ago I have aura migraines.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:55 PM on September 12, 2023

I see it all the time. When I first found out it was a thing, I asked a large group of my friends if they saw it, and about 70% of them said they did (including one who is legally blind). I *think* I believe the other 30% of them, but tbh, they aren't my closest friends of the bunch, so the correlation is interesting (whether they're more likely to be lying, or less likely to understand/believe what I'm saying, or less physiologically/psychologically similar to me, etc.)
posted by unknowncommand at 8:07 PM on September 12, 2023

I have no idea why anyone would lie about this, one way or another.

I personally had never heard of anyone that experiences this all of the time until now.

As others have mentioned, I am familiar with something similar that occurs in total or near total darkness where there is little to no visual information for the eyes to receive. But it's a different thing than what I think the OP is asking about?

To be clear, I'm not lying and, again, don't know why I or anyone else would.
posted by AbelMelveny at 8:14 PM on September 12, 2023

I can turn this on and off but it’s pretty effortful. I remember it happening sometimes as a kid. Every once in a while it kicks up while I’m meditating.
posted by lloquat at 8:31 PM on September 12, 2023

hey it me! Yep this is real, I didn’t know it was even a thing until I got visual snow a little less than 2 years ago, I can tell you the exact date and time.* I also started getting migraine aura type symptoms around the same time even though I had never had a migraine before in my whole ass life. Sounds like it’s relatively common for people who have visual snow to also get migraines. I have a Google Scholar alert up for new research on visual snow syndrome but all the studies that come out only ever have like 10 people in them and like 5 of them are usually migraneurs too so who even knows what the hell is going on with any of this.

It sucks! I can’t look at blue sky or bright snow for too long or it gets worse and then I get a headache and physical migraine aura type stuff and feel real bad. On days when it’s worse I get really bad light afterimages that can stick around for almost a whole minute after I have like a light or a glare somewhere in my field of vision which I find pretty scary. Being outside on a sunny day can be frustrating because it can be so nice out yet I just end up thinking about how to avoid looking at nice bright things that would make things worse. I got FL-41 lens migraine glasses that help a lot with being outside and in highly fluorescent-lit stores but the place I got them from raised their prices an insane amount so I won’t be getting more pairs any time soon. Driving at night is worse now because of the contrast of the streetlights. Driving at night in the rain is … Really Something.

I find the wikipedia examples to be pretty accurate. I describe mine as if I had a live moving tv static overlay layer on my vision in Photoshop but turned the opacity on the static down. My new neurologist asked me if it was light-on-dark or dark-on-light and I think I said dark on light but it actually might be inconsistent. It’s worse/more noticeable at night and in dim light for sure. and when I’m tired or thirsty. Which is basically always. I got problems man.

Fun fact is that I also now am more likely to get distracted by the blue field entoptic phenomenon which is neat and also horrifying to think about too much.

I know someone else who has visual snow also but hers is most likely drug-related. It sounds like that is also a very challenging distinction for diagnosis and if you show up with new onset visual snow they will GRILL you about whether you have used any ANY drug EVER in the past lifetime.

*I know the exact time it started because I was at a film festival for a screening of a film that was about dealing with a phantom sensory phenomenon. my visual snow started during the opening credits. you truly cannot make this shit up
posted by crime online at 9:41 PM on September 12, 2023 [2 favorites]

I have never seen or heard of anything like this. When I look at the world, I see a clear, solid image, to the limit of the optics of my eyeballs.

Why are you so convinced that everybody sees it?
posted by Hatashran at 9:46 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

I also did not know this was a thing! The nearest thing I can think of is when I was extremely bored as a kid and would stare at the ceiling until it “breathed”, aka I saw a gentle undulation. But that would go away when I blinked, I’ve never seen visual snow.
posted by lepus at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2023

Eigengrau is possibly relevant to the discussion.
Eigengrau ... dark light, or brain gray, is the uniform dark gray background color that many people report seeing in the absence of light ... Common scientific terms for the phenomenon include "visual noise" or "background adaptation". These terms arise due to the perception of an ever-changing field of tiny black and white dots seen in the phenomenon.
posted by alby at 10:32 PM on September 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Oooh it me!

I was 3 or 4 the first time I realized I had visual snow. I was staring at the wallpaper (pink and blue nineties floral) in time out, and realized it was there. I don't think the snow started then, that's just when I realized it was there. I'm 32, and it has been in my vision 100% of the time since I first noticed it, so it's been 28 or 29 years. I don't remember being sick around then, and I wasn't on any unusual meds (the occasional amoxicillin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen). I did have a fridge magnet fall in my eye at age 8*, but that's years AFTER the snow was already there so it doesn't contribute.

When there is ample light, the snow is fairly clear and...not in the way? If that makes sense. It's more noticeable against dark objects than on light objects. But when it's dark it's more like a faintly yellow-green curtain layer, which makes it harder to see at night (and probably helps explain why I like very bright rooms. Harsh overhead lighting is where it's AT). I'm nearsighted and the snow is still there with my glasses off, but is somehow more curtain-y than when I have my glasses on.

My brain does like to form patterns in the snow, some of which are extremely annoying. We had this blue waffle pattern shower curtain for the longest time and it was TERRIBLE with making a diagonal line pattern- like rain. It takes me a few extra seconds to tell if it's raining through a window screen because there's usually extra movement there.

The snow has stayed stable so far. I don't think I've brought it up to any doctors (including my ophthalmologist), and because it's stable, I'm not really likely to at this point. I did think about it when I got my first pair of glasses at age 11, but the intakee form didn't have anything that matched the description, so I didn't.

*This is a thing that always confuses people when I say it, but that is what happened. I was 8, and short, and was fighting to open a stuck fridge door (the seal had great suction). I managed to get the door open, but one not-very-strong magnet came off the door, and hit my right eye on the way down. I got some betadine in my eye and wore an eye patch for a week. I think it started the decline of my vision, but no change to the snow.
posted by smangosbubbles at 10:55 PM on September 12, 2023

I'm a diabetic and when my blood sugar is very low I have a golden yellow mist that fills the center of my vision. After I eat to raise my blood sugar the mist goes away in a few minutes.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:29 PM on September 12, 2023

I have heard of this, and I don’t have it!
posted by lokta at 3:58 AM on September 13, 2023

I don't have this.
posted by knapah at 5:05 AM on September 13, 2023

I've always had it. I used to think as a kid that it came from from watching too much television, or possibly sitting too close to the television.

I thought once we got crystal-clear cable tv it would go away. It didn't.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:48 AM on September 13, 2023

I have zero awareness of this 99% of the time. If I'm actively thinking about it, and focusing on something with a plain dark color, I do feel like I can see it. Right now I'm staring hard at a black trash can across the room and yes, I can detect a sort of grainy quality to my vision of that black shape that doesn't happen looking at any other part of my surroundings, and that my brain completely filters out unless I'm actively looking for it. So to whatever extent I have this it's very mild and my brain compensates for it extremely well. It's nothing that's ever caused any distress or trouble that I've felt a need to talk to a doctor about it, and I'm not aware of it changing with age.

I do have (relatively mild, relatively infrequent) migraines, and when I was a kid I spent perhaps an unusual amount of time amusing myself with the color/shape patterns I could see with my eyes closed.
posted by Stacey at 5:51 AM on September 13, 2023

I see visual snow, and to the best of my recollection, always have. It’s mild and doesn’t bother me. It is more intense in the dark, however, as well as when I’m not wearing my glasses (I’m nearsighted). I don’t have migraines. I thought everyone saw static until I read about it on Wikipedia a few years ago.
posted by MelanieL at 7:16 AM on September 13, 2023

Interesting. My immediate thought was, no, of course I don't have this. But as I've been thinking (and looking), I think I have some mild versions. In the dark, of course, or when my eyes are closed. When I've just woken and am looking at a white ceiling, have yellow and blue dots that kind of dance. When I was a kid and bored in school, I used to lightly press on the side of my eyeball until things fuzzed over. I know now it's a terrible idea and screws with your eye pressure, but, well, bored kid. And a couple years ago I had a few weird incidents with snow/fuzzing/maybe migraine auras? My doc got me scans to make sure my brain was okay and I only had like 3 in the span of a few months and haven't had them since, so who knows. And I think maybe some mild snowy fuzz on plain white surfaces, but I have to really concentrate to see it. I can look at a clear blue sky or fluffy clouds without any snow getting in the way (though floaters are another story).

I also have a funny visual thing that I've never heard anyone else describe, where basically everything has a faint blue or red/orange outline. It's starker when there's a strong dark/light contrast and especially out of the corner of my eye. So black phone on a white desk has a faint blue glow around the bottom and right sides and a faint orange/yellow glow around the top and right side. Those reverse as I turn my head to look from the other side, though. With glasses, without glasses, one eye shut, both eyes.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2023

I don't have this, and had never heard of it until I read your post. I'm as astonished to learn it's a thing, as you are to learn it's not for many people.

Maybe a little when I close my eyes, though it's overlaid with a lot of other stuff (shadows of whatever I was last looking at etc) so it's not something I've ever paid much attention to.
posted by penguin pie at 8:14 AM on September 13, 2023

I suspect I have a bit of this always going on when my eyes are open, but it's primarily visible against large-ish uniformly colored surfaces. I have another vision issue - astigmatism-associated mononocular diplopia (see here for a text simulation vs. a restaurant simulation) - and because that's more prominent and annoying, I tend to notice it and other things like floaters more than any light visual snow. (With my glasses off, who knows - mine are on all the time.)
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2023

OK so I think I understand what others are describing here: in low-light conditions I can perceive what I can best describe as a film or a screen of almost completely transparent static in the field of view between my eyes and, well, the world around me. I think I’d compare it more to the way shadows and darkness are rendered in low-grade video rather than TV static. I find my eyes generally focus past it and it doesn’t bother me, so I suppose I just assumed it was A Thing shared by everyone in similar conditions (FWIW glasses-wearer here for the past 10 years).
posted by macdara at 9:52 AM on September 13, 2023

I have visual snow and the tiny moving dots when I look at a blue sky. I usually don't notice it unless I pay attention - it's like my brain kind of filters it away when I'm not paying attention. I also get visual migraines, but no migraine headaches.
posted by CompanionCube at 10:01 AM on September 13, 2023

I have visual snow. Sometimes it is bad enough that figuring out detail in what I am looking at is hard. I can also often see the black spot where my optic nerve attaches because there are no rods and cones.

Visual snow is supposed to be a migraine aura, but I see it all the time. The intensity of it ebbs and flows.

Venlafaxine can both make visual snow much worse, and add the auditory equivalent of constant white noise. These changes may not fully go back to baseline after you get off the drug, so if visual snow is a problem for you, you may want to avoid that particular drug, or get off it as soon as you can find a replacement. Being on Venalfaxine made my visual snow coarser, and brighter but it was there before I took the drug.

Vision is interesting because our brains learn to tune out things that are not useful and which are a distraction. For example if you wear glasses you can see them with your peripheral vision if you consciously try looking, but you normally would go through a day neither seeing them nor the little spot where the protective coating got chipped, that bothered you so much the week you got it. There are people who have learned to not see the dirt when they have dirty, speckled lenses.

So I think it is quite possible that people who do not see visual snow, really do not and cannot see it - even though maybe they could be trained to see it, the way you can be trained to find that single tiny black dot where your optic nerve attaches to the back of your eyeball. Since the visual snow seems to be something that is not there, unlike floaters, you can get into a philosophical debate about if a sensation you do not perceive is really a sensation. I've had surgery where nerves were cut and so I have areas where I can't feel things touch me - but the marooned nerves are still there even if I can't perceive it when they get touched. The cut end of the nerve itself will respond to the touch by trying to send a signal...

If you put someone into complete sensory deprivation they often see things that they don't see under ordinary conditions - things like visual snow can become annoyingly intrusive, the same as the hissing in the ears that you usually don't perceive can become a deafening roar. The sensory deprivation magnifies them. It can be so unpleasant and overwhelming that it is one of the ways that sensory deprivation is usually experienced as traumatic.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

Kinda? I definitely see a sort of "static" when my eyes are closed, and that maybe extends to darker areas in whatever I'm currently looking at, but the effect isn't nearly as noticeable as that simulation with my eyes open. Camera sensors have a similar issue, presumably for similar reasons.
posted by Aleyn at 12:56 PM on September 13, 2023

Response by poster: Sorry so many people got affronted by my crack about normal vision being a fake idea—the joke is that your thing sounds crazy to me for the exact same reason my thing sounds crazy to you! I also have never seen what you're talking about and didn't know it even existed until someone told me. (And, not for nothing, you can look at a simulation of what things look like for me, but I can't even do that because it would have static on it.)

(That said, interesting how many people do, in fact, see it even if they don't think of themselves as seeing it!)

Thanks to everyone sharing their experiences—way more migraines than I expected. Everyone I've known who has this has been a huge weirdo so I've long harbored a theory that Metafilter will have more of us than the average population; so far that is neither confirmed nor contradicted (and probably can't be, due to selection bias).

I also have a funny visual thing that I've never heard anyone else describe, where basically everything has a faint blue or red/orange outline. It's starker when there's a strong dark/light contrast and especially out of the corner of my eye.

I have this but almost exclusively with my glasses on! If you look closely it's actually a red/orange/yellow outline at the top of the object and a green/blue/purple outline at the bottom.
posted by babelfish at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

I see it when I'm in bed at night with my eyes open, and was surprised when I realized not everybody did. I honestly am not sure if I see it at other times. I just walked into a dark room to see what I could see and I sort of couldn't tell if I was seeing it, which I know makes no sense.

Here's another weird vision thing, since we're chatfiltering. I've had vertigo as far back as I can remember, mostly when looking up at things. The tops of trees, tall buildings, the inside of the King Dome. I would get dizzy -- not scared -- and would have to stop looking at the tall thing. But this summer I was on a hike and looked down a cliff and then up a a tall tree and realized it was gone. I'm cured. I don't know why. I'm guessing it was either cataract surgery, or related to an incident of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and the treatment I did for that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:15 PM on September 13, 2023

So glad this is not just me! I can usually filter out the visual snow, or at least ignore it. It's more pronounced when I'm exhausted though. I also get migraine aura, but that's completely different and is more like sparkles in the air. Not sure the two are related, but interesting that others also experience both.
posted by MuChao at 4:02 PM on September 14, 2023

I have experienced something like this, but only if I am staring at a very bright, monotone thing like a wall or the sky. Or the inside of my eyelids. Or the green background on AskMe.

It feels like phosphenes—I know the snow isn't really there, but if I focus on it, I perceive a very low-density overlay of faint, red-shifted non-specific snow. It's much less granular and more smooth in texture than TV snow or the OP's link to visual snow.

Whereas phosphenes are strong in me but I have to induce them via strobe-like stimuli, the visual snow in me is weak, but it requires no effort by me, other than a blank field of vision, to perceive.

I imagine that it's my retina and my optic nerve trying to gather data on the blank field I'm staring at, blah blah redundancy systems, blah blah brain's self-stimulation, blah blah another part of brain interprets it as something like snow.
posted by not_on_display at 9:54 PM on September 14, 2023

Hmm, I'd never really thought about it as visual snow, but that I have a 'grey Out' in the way that someone in a blizzard might experience a 'White Out'. Things are dark. Not technocolour/

I have a crappy nervous system, autonomic, sensory etc, so it is always put down to this
posted by Flashduck at 7:56 AM on September 15, 2023

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