Crazy visual anomaly
May 31, 2007 10:45 PM   Subscribe

WTF-Filter: The left side of my visual field is being overtaken by what can only be described as... a crawling anomaly. If you imagine the sorts of random colors and shapes you see under certain circumstances with your eyes closed, or in the dark, it's like that... except there is also a feeling of movement... as though everything is sort of undulating kaliedscopically. The anomaly tracks along with my eye movement... so I can't look at it... it's always in my periphery.

What would cause this, and how can I make it stop? It was making it someone difficult to read a moment ago, though it seems to have drifted a bit from the center of my visual field.

I've never done any psychotropics, haven't stared at any bright lights except my computer monitor, and haven't suffered any head injuries.
posted by phrontist to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The start of my first migraine was sort of like that.

Though really, this sounds like the kind of thing you want to see a doctor about.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:53 PM on May 31, 2007

It just subsided entirely a moment ago.

It's funny you should mention migranes... I had a really long lasting low level headache a day or two ago.
posted by phrontist at 10:57 PM on May 31, 2007

It is a migraine. Nothing else does this.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:05 PM on May 31, 2007

Totally reminiscent of my migrane symptoms. It's a cognitive defect, not a visual one. I once went "cognitively blind" in the left half of both eyes' visual fields - that is, I couldn't describe anything to my left, although I could reach out and grab it, I could walk around without running into anything, &c.

One day two summers ago, I had a mild headache, and then for about four hours I couldn't read. I could identify individual words, but I couldn't recognize all the words in a sentence at once.

Migranes are weird. The doctors will just shrug, don't even bother just for this. From my experience, though, I never had the same cognitive symptoms twice (although sensitivity to light and sound were common factors), so if this recurs, I would start worrying and head for the doctor or even the emergency room.
posted by nicwolff at 11:15 PM on May 31, 2007

I get something almost exactly like you're describing. If it's the same thing it's probably a visual migraine. Mine usually start in one eye and spread across my field of vision and last anywhere from ten to thirty minutes and then go away on their own. I have never experienced any pain with them and they only happen a couple times a year. Googling for "visual migraines" brings up a lot of info. I have heard a few people online say that taking some Exedrin and trying to relax can help. I've personally never taken anything for them as they aren't usually accompanied by pain in my case. It freaked me out the first time it happened though. I thought I was going either blind or nuts. Stress can be a trigger, apparently, so try to relax and most likely it will go away on its own pretty quickly.

Course, I am not a doctor and all that.

Somewhere I have a link to a flash thingy that someone did...ah, here it is. It's an animated representation of a visual migraine. You might want to wait until your headache and vision problems subside before you watch it.
posted by LeeJay at 11:16 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I should add to cover my butt and your health if it DOESN'T go away then get thee to a doctor!
posted by LeeJay at 11:18 PM on May 31, 2007

and phrontist, I assume from your user number that you know that ikkyu2's comments are generally definitive on this sort of thing.
posted by nicwolff at 11:19 PM on May 31, 2007

This used to happen to me every once and awhile. Most of the time it came with a headache but sometimes without. I once asked my eye doctor about it and he said it was a migraine pure and simple. It always started off like a really small half moon of the kaleidoscopic nature you describe (it looked far away) and kept getting bigger (like it was getting closer) until at one point it would just be gone. Always best to get actual medical advice from a doctor of course, but I wouldn't worry too much until you see one.
posted by rfbjames at 11:19 PM on May 31, 2007

I had one of these a few years ago, drove me crazy, thought I was losing my vision. Eye doctor said: very common and utterly harmless. Can't remember exactly what he called it but pretty sure it was something along the lines of 'ocular migraine'. I do NOT suffer from the kind of head splitting headache we mostly describe with the term migraine, and did not have one during or around the time of the incident. I did, however, end the incident with a mild headache that lasted a couple hours.

Had another a couple years ago. Much less freaky the second time.
posted by carterk at 11:20 PM on May 31, 2007

My migraines (haven't had one in a decade, thankfully) did similar except for the one very bad circumstance where I lost all but a very small tunnel of vision for about half an hour.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:21 PM on May 31, 2007

I have had something that sounds similar twice in the past 3-4 years. They went after a few hours but were quite disturbing when they happened. I found reading and working hard.

It may just be a big 'floater' inside your eye somewhere.
posted by sien at 11:22 PM on May 31, 2007

After posting...awesome link LeeJay, it is pretty close to my own experience and is something perfect to show someone else who has never had this happen to them.
posted by rfbjames at 11:25 PM on May 31, 2007

I've had a handful of migraines in my life, and this always precedes them.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:40 PM on May 31, 2007

An old remedy is to breath in a paper bag for a few minutes. For some reason, this helps lots of migranes.
posted by Goofyy at 12:13 AM on June 1, 2007

"Crawling visual anomaly" is exactly the words I use to describe the aura of my migraines.

It's worth noting that migraines are not always accompanied by a disabling headache. My headaches are pretty mild, less than the ones I get from crying or going cold turkey on caffeine.

The aura itself is the main annoyance. As that nifty link shows, it's pretty inconvenient if it happens when I'm trying to drive or work. For about 20 minutes, I'm pretty useless for anything involving vision.

One interesting thing: I can tell I'm going to get a migraine up to a couple of hours before the aura by looking at the backs of my hands. When I'm pre-migrainous, one of them (usually the right one) doesn't look like mine. It looks subtly wrong and alien compared with the other one.

I've also gotten aphasic and had half my face go numb during a severe migraine. Obviously something majorly vascularly weird going on in there.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:21 AM on June 1, 2007

I should also say that a stiff cup of coffee and a couple of aspirin (or better yet, 222s -- acetominophen, caffeine and codeine) will sometimes nip a migraine in the bud if taken at the first inkling.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:24 AM on June 1, 2007

I've also gotten aphasic

So did the original poster; you'll notice he typed "someone" for "somewhat" above, a modest example of a paraphasic error.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:23 AM on June 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't want to be the downer, but while I have never had migraines, I /have/ been told that this sort of thing can indicate a detached retina, which can lead to blindness.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:51 AM on June 1, 2007

I had this happen and was told if it's like a curtain coming down over your eye/vision field, see a doctor immediately. Mine was, like others, "just" a migrane.

I could track mine though - it was right there. At any rate, yep, see a doc.
posted by cashman at 5:52 AM on June 1, 2007

My sister had a detached retina - fixed thankfully - so when I went to my optician I asked if there were any ways I could tell if the same was likely to happen to me. I was told to look out for large numbers of floaters or what appear to be flashing lights. It is more common in people who are severely myopic (more than -5 or 6 dyopters). I would suggest getting your eyes tested to rule this out: if this is the case with you then there are various fixes detailed on the link above.
posted by rongorongo at 5:58 AM on June 1, 2007

I didn't get visual migraines until 55, and get maybe one a year. I went to the office and googled it, and the Internets blinked back and said "Yeah, you got it." Low grade headache, coffee and analgesics.
Mine looks like a six-sided rainbow colored twinklie thing that expands; once in a while I get rotating twinklie snow flakes in white. Twinklie seems to be the commonality.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:06 AM on June 1, 2007

As others have pointed out, be sure to exercise some caution when you get these symptoms. My fiancee has had migraines for years, but about a year ago she started showing new symptoms.

One day she was driving home and started getting a migraine. Because of a new symptom, she thought her foot was on the brake, but it was really on the gas pedal. Luckily it was in the parking lot, and nothing too bad happened, but it could have been much worse. This confusion was a new symptom she'd never had before and wasn't aware could happen.
posted by chndrcks at 6:39 AM on June 1, 2007

Agreeing with all the suggestions above that it's a migraine. But you would still be foolish not to consult a doctor about it, just in case. And, at any rate, there are a number of very good migraine meds on the market which might give you faster relief, particularly from the long-duration headache. But you need a prescription, so the doctor can help with this.
posted by dseaton at 7:30 AM on June 1, 2007

This just happened to me a few days ago. Having never suffered from a migraine before, but having a very high myopic prescription and scary annual warnings from my optometrist about detached retina symptoms, I high-tailed it into the emergency room once I had two hours of flickering/flashing lights in a sort of geometric pattern. I got in quickly and was assessed by an ophthalmologist, who said I was describing a classic visual migraine aura (fortification spectrum?). I felt silly for panicking over some benign, but he reassured me that it wasn't an uncommon thing and that it was good I came in. He also said that if it was a detached retina, the flashes would be more camera-flash-like and not last as long. Now I just have to cross my fingers that I don't start getting migraine headaches...
posted by flying kumquat at 8:01 AM on June 1, 2007

I've had this sort of visual migraine (also appears to be called a "scintillating scotoma," if you're looking for terms to Google) about three times over the past ten years. In my case, it's never been accompanied by a headache, and I've never had your typical headache-migraines. For me, they start small, near (but not at) the center of my visual field, and slowly spread outwards (never a full circle, but more of a half-to-three-quarters arc) over the course of 20 minutes or so, disappearing as it moves past the edges of my visual field. It really freaked me out the first time it happened, but now that I know they're harmless I can just enjoy the ride.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:52 AM on June 1, 2007

The way to differentiate between floaters/flashers (possibly an indication of retinal problems) and a migraine is whether it's in one eye or both. If it's in one eye, it's retinal. Both means it's happening in your brain (migraine).
posted by radioamy at 10:19 AM on June 1, 2007

I beg to differ with radioamy, based on my personal experience. I get visual migraines relatively regularly, always in my left eye only. No migraine pain is associated (though sometimes my left eye/tear ducts feel stuffy or swollen immediately afterwards). I have a sister who gets debilitating migraine headaches from time to time, who gives me the dirtiest look every time I say casually, "Oh, look at that, I'm having a migraine".

I find that I get them more often a) before/during my period, b) when I've gotten too little sleep, or c) when I've gotten plenty of sleep but not on my regular schedule, like taking a long nap in the afternoon and then staying up until 3 am/waking up at 6.

Interestingly, my father and paternal grandmother both get them, too. (My dad says he finds that his are triggered by too-bright points of light, like the sun's reflection off of a car.) If (as I've read) migraines are associated with circulation differences in the head/brain, that sort of worries me...both Dad and Grandma have had blood clots/heart disease/heart attacks. Hope I didn't inherit their circulatory systems!
posted by gillyflower at 11:34 AM on June 1, 2007

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