Adapting to Visual Noise Alleviates Visual Snow

Samantha A. Montoya, Carter B. Mulder, Michael S. Lee, Michael Paul Schallmo, Stephen A. Engel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


PURPOSE. Visual snow syndrome—characterized by flickering specks throughout the visual field and accompanied by other symptoms—can disrupt daily life and affects roughly 2% of the population. However, its neural bases remain mysterious, and treatments are lacking. Here, we report the first intervention that can temporarily eliminate the visual snow symptom, allowing many observers to see the world without snow for the first time since symptom onset. Prolonged viewing of a visual stimulus strongly reduces the responsiveness of the visual pathways to subsequent stimuli, and we tested whether such adaptation could affect visual snow. METHODS. Participants with visual snow (total n = 27) viewed high-contrast dynamic noise patterns, resembling television static, and then judged the strength of the symptom. RESULTS. Visual snow was temporarily reduced in strength to the point that it was invisible at longer adaptation durations for most observers. The effect followed typical trends of adaptation for physical stimuli in normally sighted observers: Effect duration increased monotonically with duration of exposure to the adapter and was specific to dynamic noise. CONCLUSIONS. These results establish that spontaneous neural activity in the visual system is causally related to the visual snow percept. Because they perceive this activity, people with visual snow may provide a unique window into the generation and suppression of noise in the visual system. Adaptation allows reliable experimental control over visual snow, and so is a strong candidate for diagnostic testing and a promising tool for further understanding its neural origins, which could in turn aid the development of treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23
JournalInvestigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright 2023 The Authors.


  • dynamic noise
  • persistent positive visual phenomena
  • psychophysics
  • visual adaptation
  • visual snow


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