Monday, October 3, 2011

scintillating scotoma

image from myaspiebrain
Nothing like experiencing a medical condition first-hand to really help a doctor understand it from the patient's point of view.  After all these years, I had my first (and hopefully last) scintillating scotoma while sitting on the couch playing "words with friends" on my ipad and watching TV.  A scotoma is a partial loss of vision in a normal visual field.  Scintillate is flashing, sparkles.  Put them together and you have moving, flashing sparkles with a blind spot in your eyes.

This visual aura was first described in the 19th century  by a Dr. Hubert Airy who had migraine headaches.  The visual sparks and flashes are in a zig-zag pattern and they can precede a migraine headache or occur without any pain.   The scotoma affects both eyes and closing one or the other does not make it go away.  Sometimes the term "ocular migraine" or "retinal migraine"  are used to describe this phenomenon but these involve only one eye, not both.  The terms are often used interchangeably but they are not the same.

The cause of these migraine auras are not understood.  Only 20-30% of people with migraine headache experience them.  The visual defect occurs not in the eyes, but in the visual cortex which is located in the back of the brain in the occipital lobe.

My scintillating scotoma lasted about 15 minutes and it took me awhile to figure out what it was.  I went outside and gazed into the distance and it persisted.  I closed one eye and then the other and it was still there.  I never got a headache or any other symptoms.  Then it just went away.

The next time a patient with classic migraine with aura comes in,  I will have a better understanding of the prodrome before the headache.  I hope I don't have to experience the entire headache.  I could do without that.






91 comments:

Raymond Bouchayer said...

Scarry, Poor Dr. Toni :-(

KM said...

Sorry this happened to you Dr.Brayer but it made an interesting blog post.
Hope you are you feeling better now.

LeRoi Johnson said...

I have had this all my life, but not bilaterally. It seems to be triggered by spectral light, comes on gradually over five minute to maximum area (25% of field of vision), and then gradually fades again over 20 minutes.. Just have to wait it out. Happens in either eye, but not simultaneously.

Glad to know what this is--I've tried to describe it to opthamologists however my attempt at description was apparently insufficient to identify the syndrome.

Appreciate the website.

LeRoi Johnson

Liz Tee said...

I had a small "negative scotoma" in my right eye that came on suddenly and persisted for a couple of years. It looked like the spot left when you glance at the sun or see a camera flash go off. Once I realized I wasn't detaching a retina or having a stroke, it was just annoying. After awhile I stopped noticing it, and eventually I realized it was gone. Bizarre, the things that happen to people every day that we have never heard of!

Kate said...

I've had migraines all my adult life but not until I was 50 did I start getting scintillating scotomata. These are definitely interesting phenomena. Thankfully they are fairly rare; the headaches are much more common.

Michele Z said...

I guess I just experienced scintillating scotoma for the first time myself...weird stuff! I went over to the computer while it was happening...it lasted a little more than 5 minutes. As I try to figure this out, my best guess is acephalgic (or silent) migraine. With that diagnosis in mind, I think I might also be able to make sense of a cluster of other odd symptoms I've had over a period of years, all of which yielded negative results upon testing, both ophthalmological and neurological (2 neuro evals with MRIs and a 72-hour EEG, plus a full retinal evaluation). At various times, I've experienced muscle weakness and numbness in my left arm, accompanied by light-headedness (for a total of about 20-30 occasions), each episode lasting only about 15 seconds or so. I once found both my speech and writing blurry for about an hour or so. And finally, I experienced a single episode of a sort of largish floater located mostly on one side of my visual field. Each time one of these strange things occurred, I was somewhat frightened, but then every assessment came back with completely normal results. Somehow, all of this taken together, and considered alongside my mother's very long history of headaches (probably migraines), leads me to a self-diagnosis of [various] auras without migraines. What do you think?

Michele Z said...

I almost forgot...I started having these symptoms in my mid-40's; I am now in my mid-50's (and still not quite fully menopausal).

Anonymous said...

I had a scintillating scotoma yesterday (age 55) for the first time. Scared the heck out of me -- I didn't know what is was or if it was going to stop. Flashing, primary colored triangles that grew from a quarter moon to a complete circle. Then moved to "white out" spots. Glad to know what it is!

avi Steiner said...

I happen to get these once in a few years. I noticed that it always happens after waking up from a really long night sleep.

I usually sleep 6-8 hours a night. It happened a few times that I slept for 13-14 hours and then I got about 10-20 minutes after I woke up.

lumin smith said...

Primary headaches can affect the quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly while others are debilitated. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be associated with symptoms that can mimic strokes or intracerebral bleeding.

Migraine headache symptoms

Anonymous said...

exactly describes my experience. I thought it was one eye, but closing each eye individually did not make the scintillation go away. Distant viewing also had the visual disturbance. Took 30 min to go away completely. But I had mild pain and heaviness in one eye which presisted 12 hours after the incident...OK Now

Anonymous said...

Same thing happened to me today, a "C" shape pattern on the left side of my field of vision. It lasted for about 5 minutes and then expanded and went away. No pain or migrane, just the scotoma. It happened right after my right foot went numb because of the position I was sitting.

Norm E said...

Woke up at 8 am and looked at the ceiling sleepily. I could see something moving above and to the left of my left eye. It looked like s swarm of black ants moving quickly counter-clockwise, lasting about 8 minutes. I closed my left eye and looked up at a similar circular design, although visibly lighter, perhaps because it was nearer to the shaded window. Both were moving in the same direction. There was no color or geometric patterns. I saw my Retina specialist this afternoon. (i have mild macular degeneration). His diagnosis: "probable scintillating scotoma". i don't think so. No migraines or other symptoms. A specialist will decide. i should have sprayed them with DDT!

Unknown said...

I have had these sparkly vision-blocking episodes for about 20 years. They come on about once a month. Stress, caffeine and poor sleep seem to be trigger factors, maybe it's menstrual cycle related too, I am not sure. It fully develops over about five minutes, blocks both my eyes' normal vision, and resolves in about 20-30 minutes. I don't have a headache afterwards, I just feel a little anxious and weird later. If I am driving a car I must pull over and wait. Doctors and eye doctors just shrug and say, "yes that's what it is."

-Molly

Anonymous said...

I started having these pain free problems at 28 years, it happened again 9 years later and strangely exactly 9 years later again. then they become more frequent and even twice in one day. At 53, I've only just found out what it is, after 25 years of begging the medical world for a diagnosis and getting nowhere, I discovered it myself online.
When the jagged horseshoe shaped light start appearing, it's the most frightening episode of my life. It usually lasts about 15 mins and slowly drifts away to the left of my vision. Thank you for informing me of your similar accounts: for a quarter of a century I thought I was the only one in the world, and it's comforting to finally know what it is, and that I'm not alone in my affliction

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences. The power of the internet to relieve anxiety and understand medical conditions is wonderful.

Charles Dytham said...

Is there a cure ?

MustangGuy said...

I recently started experiencing the same C shaped static object on the left side, and found what triggered it for me..waking up half way through the night and getting 5 hours of sleep. i went and checked for retinal detachment, nothing is wrong with my eyes and when I mentioned the word migraine aura, the optometrist asked me to explain to her what it was..i read so many people go to neurologist and have MRI done, im not going through that only to be told "make a diary of what could be triggering it. i get scintillating scotoma if i get less sleep and visual aura every 2-4 months. if i look at a bright sun it goes away faster than laying in a dark room.

Anonymous said...

Had my second scintillating scotoma in three years just the other day. Again very anxiety producing. I happened to be with a doctor friend at the time. He did a pen torch exam and said he had never seen anything like it before. My pupils were both twitching. Constricting and dilating rapidly. Weird stuff. hopefully next time I can just entity the flashing weird phenomena without wiring I am having a vascular accident.

Anonymous said...

Just sitting and watching tv when a circle entered my field of vision. It was black with colorful lines. It grew bigger and moved slowly to the left. I was freaking out! Was I having a stroke? It slowly kept moving until it went out of my field of vision to the left. Took about 20 minutes. Then I had a horrible headache and was sick to my stomach. Took nearly 20 hours for the fog to lift. Never had a migraine in my life. So this is what is was? Don't ever want to see it again.

Daniels said...

I realised I get these from camera flash or anything too bright, such as sun. I experienced this four out of seven days when I went on vacation to the beach. Everytime i hit the bright sand, It would shortly later show up. Just had a few pictures taken w/ flash and now Im enjoying one. Lasts atleast 15 to 20 minutes.

Asa said...

I am a 35 yr old 160 lb fit male who had his 1st scintillating scotoma followed by a crippling headache and vomiting when I was about 15. I had a 1/2 dozen or so in the year following all with headache and vomiting. I had not had any since and just passed it off as a body change due to puberty. While on vacation in Sept 2012, I was driving the rental car when I developed a flashing blind spot in my right eye. I knew exactly what was coming and luckily we were close to the hotel. It abruptly ended a very pleasant sight-seeing drive. By the time we were walking into the hotel, the headache was so severe, I really wanted to cry. I made it to the room, immediately killed all light sources and laid down. After 10 minutes of agonizing and frightening pain, my stomach became very upset. I quickly made it to the restroom and commenced to vomit. As in the past, I laid down, slept and woke up with no pain, just a weird fog. I was hoping it would be another 20 years before another episode. Not so lucky! I had 5 in 5 days in late October, 3 in November and 2 in December. Not all of them have been accompanied by vomiting, and not all of them come with the severe headache, although a headache accompanies all of them. Went to Eye Dr. In Oct. nothing wrong with eyes. Went to family Dr. Who ordered MRI. Nothing wrong with brain or eye structure. Gave me migraine meds and has me recording BP twice daily. My BP is slightly high and so is cholesterol. It seems that catching bright flashes of light might be the trigger and they scare me to death. Was looking at jewelry for my wife a Christmas present last week and the light reflecting off the diamonds threw me immediately into one. Had to immediately leave the mall.

I fear these things more than anything and wish I had an answer to their cause

Unknown said...

Asa,
Maybe the stress of picking out diamonds in a mall jewelry store brought it on too! Stress triggers it for me. My eye doctor says it is a brain condition not an eye condition because both eyes are affected at once. Glad that your MRI checked out okay.

-Molly

Unknown said...

Maybe the stress of picking out diamonds in a mall jewelry store triggered it too!
Stress does it for me. Glad your MRI checked out ok. My eye doctor says this condition is a brain thing not an eye thing since both eyes are affected.
-Molly

Unknown said...

Maybe the stress of picking out diamonds in a mall jewelery store triggered it! Stress and lights do it for me. Glad your MRI turned out ok. My eye doctor says it is a brain thing not an eye thing since both eyes are affected with the sparkles.

-Molly

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Asa (and others), thank you for sharing your experiences. It certainly seems like you have experienced the classic description of migraine headache with scotoma. The abortive migraine medications (sumatriptan, naratriptan,almotriptan) are rapid onset and in many cases can stop the symptoms cold. They have not been studied in scintillating scotoma alone but it is worth a try when you feel it coming on.
Certain foods, stress,hormone changes, flashing lights can all be triggers also.

Asa said...

I am a 35 yr old 160 lb fit male who had his 1st scintillating scotoma followed by a crippling headache and vomiting when I was about 15. I had a 1/2 dozen or so in the year following all with headache and vomiting. I had not had any since and just passed it off as a body change due to puberty. While on vacation in Sept 2012, I was driving the rental car when I developed a flashing blind spot in my right eye. I knew exactly what was coming and luckily we were close to the hotel. It abruptly ended a very pleasant sight-seeing drive. By the time we were walking into the hotel, the headache was so severe, I really wanted to cry. I made it to the room, immediately killed all light sources and laid down. After 10 minutes of agonizing and frightening pain, my stomach became very upset. I quickly made it to the restroom and commenced to vomit. As in the past, I laid down, slept and woke up with no pain, just a weird fog. I was hoping it would be another 20 years before another episode. Not so lucky! I had 5 in 5 days in late October, 3 in November and 2 in December. Not all of them have been accompanied by vomiting, and not all of them come with the severe headache, although a headache accompanies all of them. Went to Eye Dr. In Oct. nothing wrong with eyes. Went to family Dr. Who ordered MRI. Nothing wrong with brain or eye structure. Gave me migraine meds and has me recording BP twice daily. My BP is slightly high and so is cholesterol. It seems that catching bright flashes of light might be the trigger and they scare me to death. Was looking at jewelry for my wife a Christmas present last week and the light reflecting off the diamonds threw me immediately into one. Had to immediately leave the mall.

I fear these things more than anything and wish I had an answer to their cause

Steve Westerlund said...

Scintillating Scotoma. I believe that is what I have expereinced several times (about 10) in the last dozen years, this past year about 3 times. My first happened in 1999 when I was driving the remaining 20 miles to the airport. The arc of what I could only describe as "marquee lights" started in my direct line of sight and eventaully expanded out to my peripheral vision and disappeared completely as I arrived at the airport. Scary then, but, had no migraines or above normal stress at the time. These symptoms just come and go. Today, I decided to look it up because it happened again, but, this time it started out as a rhomboid box shape, expanding and morphing into the usual C form I usually get. About 20 minutes later it is gone. A mystery for sure, both eyes, and, always floats off to the left, which sounds like a common pattern among other "sufferers" in this blog. I am 64, take no medications, am physically fit although could lose a few pounds, have worked on computers full-time since 1975, don't wear glasses except for reading, drink regular coffee every day. This eye thing happens randomly to me with no apparent trigger. Thanks to all that have assisted me in my self-diagnosis. No one else I know has this eye issue and I now understand there is no cure (not that I was expecting one).

Anonymous said...

I got one today and was able to truncate it by taking pregnenolone (rubbed about 10 mg on gums for fast absorption) as well as coconut oil. I'm not sure which one worked but it stopped about 5 minutes later. Is there any correlation to blood sugar levels or time of last meal? In my case, I hadn't eaten in awhile which was why I tried the coconut oil(medium chain triglycerides for the brain's glucose level) and the pregnenolone as it's a known brain/hormone helper. Please let me know if anyone else tries this and it works so I know it wasn't just a fluke that it worked today.

Clay said...

I'm 53 and have been having episodes of this and a tunnel vision since adolescence. Found that lying down with eyes closed in a dark room, running warm water on my hands and wrists, and taking 650 mg aspirin with some caffeine would stop it in about ten minutes if I did these things at "first flash"... If I did nothing the symptoms would last an hour or more. Thank you for the info. It feels good to put a name to this!

Anonymous said...

I'm 52 and have had two of these episodes in the last two weeks. I've never suffered from migraines before. Both times it was in my left eye but I didn't close one eye at a time - I've read that if t's only in one eye it could be a vascular event and my gp wants me to get it checked out. Is there any links to hrt and scintillating scotoma?

Anonymous said...

Im 25 6 foot 4 fit and athletic male, have been having scotomas since i was about 15 years old with no occompanied headache, can occur as often as twice a day, to as little as once a year, with no obvious onset or trigger. It is my understanding that during the cortical spreading depression, the electro-neurological hyperactivity wich happens during this phase, overrides the main visual cortex from the high levels of electro-neural activity, and interrupts the data wich is passing through the optical nerve, it is logical to assume the actual visual scotoma is the electro neurological code that the brain is producing during the cortical spreading, and what we are seeing is residual information being processed best it can by the visual cortex. -Niles

Anonymous said...

Nice description, Niles.
Before I describe my experience for those trying to find answers behind Scintillating Scotoma - Dr. Brayer - could these symptoms potentially / remotely be anything else whatsoever apart from S.S.?
I'm 40 this year (ugh), male, have been a little stressed and ever-so-slightly burnt-out at late. I experienced my first ever S.S., 3 nights ago coming home from work in a cab when I was reading something on my iPhone, which at the time was on the brightest visual setting.
I experienced the zig-zag "C" thing, in what seemed to be in my left eye, then about 20 minutes later it floated away. But then a blind spot replaced it for roughly the same amount of time. It was painless but I did feel a little odd for the rest of the night. No headaches following, thankfully.
Like many of the other comments above, it was a little terrifying to experience, mainly because of the lack of understanding. But the following day I googled it and was extremely surprised to find a lot about this strange anomaly. I just hope we're all correct. Cheers, Chris




storcbird said...

Ann said
So happy to read all of the comments. My scintillation scotoma started about 9 months ago at the age of 70. Had my eyes check everything was fine. My doctor said that I should not worry about this but the episodes are so annoying and scary. I am an artist did a painting of the flashing lights.
Reading the comments by other people had allayed by fears,

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see another reported seeing flashing triangles. I just visited my cornea specialist who has treated me for shingles HZO related issues for several years. Attack occurred 2006. I had 4 different epasodes over 4 days about 2 weeks ago. 1st was the C pattern that moved accross my field of vision. 2nd occurred while I was driving. The center of my field of vision in both eyes started swirling. Peripheral vision was fine. Made a trip to the eye hospital that day. They dilated me and said everything looks fine. Suspected optical migraine but want me to follow up with neurologist. After returning home I had 2 more episodes. The 3rd was a rotating circle of flashing neon colored triangles. The 4th was a grayed out rectangle in my field of vision. It blocked several words when I was reading a text message. The same area was blocked in both eyes. Each lasted 30 to 40. Felt a little weird afterwards. 55 year old male.

Haitham Khatib said...

I started to see the C patten in my left eye 5 month ago, all symptoms are similar to what is described here, yet only difference is that it is happening all the time, it doesn't disappear during the day, only when i go to sleep. also starts like 1 minute after I weak up. does anyone have similar symptoms ?

Haitham Khatib said...

I started to see the C patten in my left eye 5 month ago, all symptoms are similar to what is described here, yet only difference is that it is happening all the time, it doesn't disappear during the day, only when i go to sleep. also starts like 1 minute after I weak up. does anyone have similar symptoms ?

Haitham Khatib said...

I started to see the C patten in my left eye 5 month ago, all symptoms are similar to what is described here, yet only difference is that it is happening all the time, it doesn't disappear during the day, only when i go to sleep. also starts like 1 minute after I weak up. does anyone have similar symptoms ?

Anonymous said...

After a bit of Googling I've just found out what this annoying psychedelic thing is! I'm in my mid 30's and have been getting Scintillalting Scotoma for a few years now, one or two every few months. No obvious trigger, except I seem to get them mostly when looking at my computer screen, though I look at a screen for 8hrs a day for my job so I'm not sure how related they are. They don't precede a migraine or headache and usually expand and dissapate within about 30 mins. It's good to know they aren't a symptom of an eye problem, though I hope it's not a brain or other issue that needs attention. Most of the online information I can get refers to it as a migraine aura, with little information for people who get them without associated migraine. Most of the conclusions I have gleaned basically say there's nothing to be worried about. I hope that's true.

Anonymous said...

I am about 15 minutes into one right now. it is the third I have experienced in about 6 months. It has moved from dead center in my visual field, blinding me like a pencil point, and slowly moved outward like a lasso. The farther out from the center it gets, the bigger it gets. Now my vision has returned in the center, but I have an annular blindness. It is present in both eyes, but stronger in the right, where I have an annular scotoma due to glaucoma. I have also had a few sharp twinges of pain on my scalp, but no headache. The previous two episodes have been similar. today, a lot of coffee, 200 mg of B12, and my usual terrible diet - a can of peanuts this time for breakfast and lunch. Honey roasted! OK, its gone.

Anonymous said...

I just had my second episode today, March 20, 2013 at about 9 am.
My first one was almost exactly one year ago, March 19, 2012 at 10:43 am.
I know the exact date because I saved the Wikipedia notation about this, and my work browser saved the date and time.
Anyway, I too was a bit anxious, but not really scared, although like most of you, it was very new to me. I'm 68 years old and nothing was ever really wrong with me before this incident.
Each time it took about an hour to go away.
I also saw lots of flashing lights that look(ed) like semi horseshoes flashing within themselves.
I could see, but didn't feel comfortable about driving, with the flashing right directly in front of my vision.
Just a tiny bit of a headache.

Brian said...

I have been having these for about two years. I called my doctor while I was driving the first time and asked if I was having a stroke or something. I am now 57 and have the length of time narrowed down to 20-25 minutes by eating a banana and drinking a full glass of water. Occaisionally I will take a baby aspirin with the water snd banana. I also found sprinkling garlic powder on the banana helps maybe by thinning the blood. Before figuring this out they would last 45 min to an hour and would leave me feeling weak.

Brian said...

Message to Anonymous from March 13. Stay off the peanuts which are high in vitamin k which causes blood thickening. Also, stay off the caffeinated coffee which causes more urination thereby dehydrating you. You need to make sure you drink plenty of water (at least a glass) at the onset of the scotoma and at other times as well.
The idea has been expressed that this may be caused by a low blood sugar state so eat a banana or a piece of fruit when the attack starts.

Anonymous said...

I have had this condition since I was 22. Life changes seem to set off my SS. I have never had an accompanying headache. Just the annoyance of the "letter C" expanding in my field of view. Closing my eyes does nothing to stop the image. I am 42 now. I get SS evey few years. Just had one today. This is my first week of law school. When I was 22 it was my first week in the Army. Good to see that there are others with SS.

Peter in Vegas

Toni Brayer, MD said...

I love seeing the continued interest and sharing about SS. Glad this blog has been useful and reassuring to many of you. Click on the entire everythinghealth bar at the top and read some other health news. You can also sign up on the right side of the blog and be a subscriber.

Theresa said...

I had one of these episodes this morning I believe. I thought it was a new kind of Retina tear, as I've experienced those in both eyes in the last 2 years. But none have had jagged straight lines, nor have I ever been able to catch a 'floater' in my central vision. This came on after I had fed my 7 month old granddaughter at 5am. She spent the night, & I was cleaning up & getting ready for my day with her. I noticed what I thought was a new floater & I could look right at it, which was impossible normally. Then it started flashing white & black, no colors I could detect. It became annoying & I was making plans to go see my Retina specialist while it was happening, for a checkup. It finally seemed to widen/spread out, then went away. But while it was happening, I was annoyed I was having more issues with my eyes. I didn't freak out, and it went away. I had no pain, just felt a little odd afterwards. The flashing was different from the white streaks I have because of the tear in my retina. More disconcerting, since I was used to my 'falling star' retina tear flashes. Sorry for rambling.

Dave said...


I am an otherwise healthy 44 year old male, and I experienced my first Scintillating Scotoma yesterday evening at about 9:30 pm. It happened while I was speaking to my girlfriend, and all the of the sudden I realized that I couldn't see (or at least make sense of) her face. I told her what I was experiencing, but of course it didn't make any sense to her - in fact, initially she didn't think that anything was actually wrong.

A few minutes later I removed my contact lenses, thinking that they may have dried out and thus caused the problem. When my glasses made no difference, I went to the computer and started searching for a possible cause. By this point, the scotoma started to grow and assumed the "C" shape that is apparently typical among sufferers. As a result, I had a large enough field of vision that I could read the screen, and my Google search immediately directed me to the "Scintillating Scotoma" page.

The episode resolved completely in about 15-20 minutes, and aside from a bit of ongoing dizziness, I feel fine. As a precautionary measure, I scheduled an office visit with my GP as I would like reassurance that there aren't any underlying causes of my SS episode.

It was frightening when it happened, but it's reassuring to know that so many of you have experienced the same thing.

Dr, Brayer, thank you for making this resource available to the Internet Community - reading the accounts of others last night shortly after this happened certainly eased my mind.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Thanks Dave and Teresa,
It's great that you have shared your experiences and I know others will find it to be helpful with their own SS symptoms.

Michele Z said...

I've only experienced a SS one time, and it lasted less than 15 minutes. However, I've also experienced some other neurological symptoms that I'm wondering about, to see if others have had them as well. Most troubling (because this one has recurred many times) is an experience of muscle weakness in one of my arms, often accompanied by a slight lightheadedness. It typically lasts only about 30 seconds and I quickly feel back to normal. Since it most often occurs when I'm doing prep for a meal (cutting vegetables, e.g.) I have to briefly stop what I'm doing...but then it's pretty quickly gone. Have any of you also had this sort of thing happen? I'm thinking it's also a acephalic migraine symptom, but I'm troubled by its frequency--sometime several times a month (although I can also skip many months)...for the past several years now.

gary lane said...

I am a 42 year old female and this happened to me completely out of the blue last night. I am not stressed nor have ever suffered migraines, I got out of a hot bath, dressed and then as I went to go downstairs I noticed this ball of light with zig zag lines
that I couldnt get rid of, it completely scared the life out of me, it lasted for about 10 minutes, floated off to the left upper side of my vision then disappeared.
It left me feeling a bit weird but no headache or anything, worried it could be something more sinister as I've never even experienced a migraine before.
Thanks for your post, its comforting to know that others have experienced the same.

Anonymous said...

I am a 37-year-old female and I have had scintillating scotoma since my late twenties. The first time I freaked out, now I'm used to them. I had my last one a couple of days ago and for the first time decided to figure out what it was by searching online. Mine go away within 40-50mn and although I don't have any migraine afterwards I get very exhausted and dizzy. I have noticed over the years that it often happens when I haven't had enough food or when I've worked out too much. I would say 50% of the time I've had them within 30mn of working out. I've also noticed that very bright lights sometimes trigger them as well like two days ago. I'm going to start writing down the dates, what I've eaten, the circumstances etc and see if I can identify other patterns.

Helen said...

Oh my goodness!
I'm not going blind, having a stroke or having my retinas detached . .
How scary is this weird phenomenon?
I was sitting minding my own business when I got this blind spot right in the middle of my vision, almost like when you look at something bright and you're left with the after effect.
The blind spot then went wild, showing white jagged edges, shimmering around the outside. I closed my eyes and it was there having a ball, getting bigger and brighter.
Cue a mild panic attack, should I phone the optician? NHS helpline? Emergency doctor? Then I realised that it was actually going away, moving towards the periphery and it wasn't in both eyes but only in my right. When it started the blind spot was in both eyes. Wavery, shimmering vision and unable to focus on anything lasted in total around 10 minutes. Once it had dissipated Google beckoned and I'm so thankful that I found this blog to set my mind at rest and stop reading horror stories . . .
Don't want to experience this again - too scary and I'm glad I wasn't doing anything like driving or working - I freaked out in private!

Helen

Helen Innes said...

Oh my goodness!
I'm not going blind, having a stroke or having my retinas detached . .
How scary is this weird phenomenon?
I was sitting minding my own business when I got this blind spot right in the middle of my vision, almost like when you look at something bright and you're left with the after effect.
The blind spot then went wild, showing white jagged edges, shimmering around the outside. I closed my eyes and it was there having a ball, getting bigger and brighter.
Cue a mild panic attack, should I phone the optician? NHS helpline? Emergency doctor? Then I realised that it was actually going away, moving towards the periphery and it wasn't in both eyes but only in my right. When it started the blind spot was in both eyes. Wavery, shimmering vision and unable to focus on anything lasted in total around 10 minutes. Once it had dissipated Google beckoned and I'm so thankful that I found this blog to set my mind at rest and stop reading horror stories . . .
Don't want to experience this again - too scary and I'm glad I wasn't doing anything like driving or working - I freaked out in private!

Helen

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting - exactly what I had today. 6PM, just got home from work, was probably a little low on blood sugar and was hungry, had had a cup of black coffee an hour & a half earlier. I take one squirt of Flonase in each nostril every day for sinus issues and I took the squirt then, and it felt a little funny - normally I hardly even notice it (can barely smell it, even though Flonase has a distinctive smell) but I got a sort of sting in the sinuses today. And suddenly, I noticed a multi-colored, zig-zag pattern in what seemed to be the left field part of my left eye's field of vision. I gradually caught on to it being sort of C-shaped and over about 15 minutes the field of zigzags grew for a while, then shrank up. They obscured things, and it appeared that they bent light to the left or right of them but for the most part the only problem in my vision was where the zigzag was. after a few minutes I tested both eye by closing them individually, and it appeared that the zigzags were in either /both eyes rather than the left one. The zigzag C shrank down and got thinner and smaller , and moved closer and closer to the central part of my field of vision, and then finally shrank away to nothing. And that was it, no headache, no pain in the eyes, gone about 10-15 minutes after it started. It is pretty interesting to see that this is a fairly widespread phenomenon. I've had detatched retinas before in both eyes and at first thought it was something related to that but it certainly isn't. I hope it doesn't come back with a migraine some other time. I can't help but think it had to be associated with that strange reaction to my Flonase today though. /51 yr old male

PJ said...

I'm having an episode right now. So freaky! Never happened before so of course I googled. I ran 5k this evening, about 2 hours ago and came home and drank some water and had a banana. I'm trying to lose weight so have been recording my exercise and calories and realized I had an 'extra' 100 calories so I rewarded myself with a low carb beer. I'm thinking perfect storm of preceding events? It was at first scary, then kind of cool, and now very annoying.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

TO ALL COMMENTS: It is gratifying to know you have found this blog and it has helped you understand this strange medical phenomenon. Thank you for sharing so others can see your experience and relieve a bit of anxiety.

If you have any eye or visual changes that do not resolve, please see your doctor right away.

Anonymous said...

I've just had an SS episode today - the first for about 3 years. The first one I ever had was 5 years ago (age 51 then, post menopausal)
I find that it's usually when a particular set of circumstances coincide that they happen:
- tiredness
- dehydration
- hungry
- bright or flashing light
- looking at a screen (computer, TV, etc)

None of those things on their own would trigger an attack but if all those factors are present then the SS could happen. At their worst I could have several a day for a week. I do smoke and if I had a cigarette after an episode it would trigger another (so quickly learned not to do that).

Today's was less severe than in the past, lasted 10 minutes and afterwards had a mild headache, slight nausea and general lethargy (was able to continue at work OK).

Only ever get it in one eye at a time (usually the right, but odd times the left) and it's always preceded by a blind spot in the centre of my vision.

Anonymous said...

This keeps on happening to me ! I see things on the Internet that say that it's a tumor and that surgery will be necessary to take out the problem. And I got it two times this week , I just don't like to think about surgery I'm too young, I'm only 14 years old.

Texasboy said...

Had my second episode this morning. I thought I was going blind, but after doing an Internet search this, I found this website. Thank you all very much! I initially had attributed my symptoms to low blood sugar since both episodes happened after waking up in the morning and subsided after eating. I have been under more stress than usual, however- turning 65 and retiring at the same time- and can certainly see how that might have something to do with the abrupt onset of my symptoms.

Beth said...

I've been having these events for many years, since I was a teen. I'm 48, female, healthy, don't drink alcohol/coffee/sodas (rarely). I generally have one every 1-2 years or so. This week I've had two--which prompted me to do some research. It's funny to me that I've never mentioned this to a doctor. I just tend to forget about them. I don't generally have any pain with it. Although once I was driving and did experience a mild headache and some nausea (which I think was based on being out of town alone -- a little scary). My events last for 20-30 minutes. They start with a "blur" in my vision, then grow into the full-blown C, electric-like, moving off to either the right or left peripheral vision. It's not linked to one eye, so it does seem to be SS. I generally try to lay down in a dark room if I can. And relax! I don't let myself get upset if I can do this. This week's episodes started while I was reading my iphone. Both times I thought it was a smudge on my screen. Then after I couldn't wipe it off, the C started to form and I'm like "ok, I know what this is--time to rest". So the theory about it being triggered by light seems highly possible.

I think staying calm is important. But it is a strange thing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

In the back of my skull there are hundreds of blood vessels. I lay on the couch. My head is on a folded, stuffed, prop pillow. My head jacked toward my feet. I watch TV like this. Sometimes I can feel the back of my head become numb. Interesting. I simply move my head and I can feel the blood flow. The numbness goes away. For the past, month or so I have been doing this. I started to get the blade streaks around the periphery of my left eye when I quickly rotate the eye in a circle. Cool. Interesting. But I am 56. Old. I got scared. So soon the breakdown, the end is near and all that? I found this site showing the problem is in the brain at the anterior/ back of my brain. So that’s my problem! Blood flow to the brain. Interesting. So, I quit the laying on the hard pillow thing, along with jacking my head toward my feet while laying there for hours. I sit correctly. And, viola! Gone.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Anon, Aug 21: What you are describing does not sound like
Scintillating Scotoma. It does sound like a compression on the blood vessels that feed the brain so, yes, please don't arch your neck like that and compress on the back of your head. If you have any other symptoms that are weird, please check it out with your personal physician.

Paula said...

I thought I should share my experience too. This happened to me for the first time while I was lying in bed with the TV on and surfing the web. I had a visual disturbance where an arc of crystals of refracted light zigzagged across my vision on the right side and just shimmered there for about 10 min. It seemed to be moving slightly (swaying) on the bottom. I then looked it up on the web and found out it's called a scintillating scotoma. This lasted about 10 min. It gradually faded away from the top right up my vision. Then 5 minutes later, I felt a bit nauseas but never had a headache with it (acephalgic migraine). My health history: I've suffered from neck and shoulder problems (old injury to my neck when I was younger). I sometimes experience pain behind my left eye and soreness at the base of my head and around my jaws and sometimes behind my left ear. I rarely get severe headaches.

Anonymous said...

I have had 3 simular events to this in the past 2 mths.
Each one about 2 weeks apart.Each time while I was operating a vehicle.Starts off as a vague feeling of light headedness and then the vision goes wacky.Always clears up in less then a minute.No headaches, nausea or any other symptoms. As a 57 year old male,its been scary ordeal.Doc"s keep leaning to the idea of mini strokes.Makes it even scarier.All the testing so far has ruled out the possibility of strokes.Recently I've been googling and discovered info on S.S.and optical migraines.Seems likely that this could be what I am going through.I sure hope so.Something to talk about with my G.P. and Opthomologist at my next visits....thanks for all the info here.

Anonymous said...

I have had symptoms of Scintillating Scotoma since I was about 14 years old. Only recently have I found that eating something (anything including some potato chips and some milk) will clear up the symptom within one to two minutes. Anyone else tried eating something at the first sign?

Regards

Anonymous said...

I have been having episodes of Scintillating Scotoma since I was a teenager. I recently found that by eating something at the first sign of the symptoms. Anyone else tried this?

Regards

Anonymous said...

I have had this for years. I usually get them after I have been sitting for long periods then quickly get up and am very busy as in moving around a lot. I hear a loud pulsing in my ears as tho I can hear the blood rushing in my ears, then the scotoma happens, lasts 20 minutes and fades away.

Chris Wood said...

Several people here likening them to sunspots or the negative images from bright lights that persist in your vision. I just had the first one of my life today, and I can say that it is nothing like the spots I frequently get from light, or even the streaks of light I got during a brief period of migraines that I had about 12 years ago. This was much more internal feeling. I also had very little pain. Just disorientation and partial blindness. It also moved and grew gradually. It didn't fade, it just moved slowly out of my peripheral vision, and it took about an hour from the first moment I started wondering if something was wrong with my vision. It was most unnerving and aggravating when it first appeared near the center of my vision, and it made it very difficult to see anything. I became very concerned and even felt disoriented, because I couldn't focus on anything. As it radiated out it became much easier to see things in the center. It was not like a "spot" or a negative image or light streaks or burn in effect though at all. What it reminded me of was when water got on a LCD screen, only brighter and more distorted. It was very much like a prism's refracting effect. It also looked the same when my eyes were closed, except brighter. light spots always look dark and or blurry when your eyes are open, and light when they close. This was not really what I would call blurry. Just distorted.

Chris Wood said...

Several people here likening them to sunspots or the negative images from bright lights that persist in your vision. I just had the first one of my life today, and I can say that it is nothing like the spots I frequently get from light, or even the streaks of light I got during a brief period of migraines that I had about 12 years ago. This was much more internal feeling. I also had very little pain. Just disorientation and partial blindness. It also moved and grew gradually. It didn't fade, it just moved slowly out of my peripheral vision, and it took about an hour from the first moment I started wondering if something was wrong with my vision. It was most unnerving and aggravating when it first appeared near the center of my vision, and it made it very difficult to see anything. I became very concerned and even felt disoriented, because I couldn't focus on anything. As it radiated out it became much easier to see things in the center. It was not like a "spot" or a negative image or light streaks or burn in effect though at all. What it reminded me of was when water got on a LCD screen, only brighter and more distorted. It was very much like a prism's refracting effect. It also looked the same when my eyes were closed, except brighter. light spots always look dark and or blurry when your eyes are open, and light when they close. This was not really what I would call blurry. Just distorted.

Anonymous said...

I actually had a scintillating scotoma tonite.... think it was triggered by a bright light and maybe stress... haven't had an episode in about 2years and it lasted the usual 15 minutes.. been having them off and on for the last 15 years...occurring maybe 2times a year....went to an optomologist after first occurrence and he told me to eat healthier...less caffeine, less chocolate and less stress...but I still freak out when it happens.

Anonymous said...

Dr Brayer, thank you for alleviating my anxiety, just had my first episode of Scintillating Scotoma - lasted for 15-20 minutes. I thought my glasses needed cleaning, then realised I had a 'blind spot' in the same place with either eye which resolved to become an arc which then shifted position as the phenomenon resolved/faded completely.

Thankfully no headache or other symptoms. I'll jot in my diary and mention to my GP whenever I see them next (could be a while as I have no underlying health problems).

Regards.

Anonymous said...

I found out my sister has been having episodes of scotoma and I told her the trick about eating something to make it go away. She tried it and was amazed how fast it went away (almost immediately after eating). Anyone else try this trick yet?

Elizabeth Wallace said...

Thankyou so much, I have had these for about 8 years now and always knew what they were as I read up on them then, but they were still scary until this morning when I had one and found your blog. A doctor getting them and able to explain it makes all the difference, (sorry to hear you got one but I expect many of us are grateful that you did). I am also very grateful that you keep returning to the blog to comment, I wish you were my doctor.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, and all of the commenters. Sharing your experiences helps everyone and knowing this isn't a stroke or other serious brain malady is a real service. I enjoy reading what others experience also.

Michele Z said...

While I've only experienced SS once, I previously had several episodes of other neurological symptoms. Though it now seems pretty clear to me that I have acephalgic migraine, or migraine without headache (thankfully), the diagnosis was more difficult to arrive at since the earlier symptoms were not so clearly distinguished as migraine related phenomena. Thus, I had MRIs and an extended EEG to rule out stroke and seizures. My other symptoms, which included an episode of slurred speech and another several of one sided muscle weakness/numbness accompanied by lightheadedness, now seem to me to be other acephalgic migraine symptoms. If only I'd had the SS first...it wouldn't have been as scary, complicated, or costly to make the diagnosis.

Shawna said...

I have had these episodes since I was 19. I am now 40. To me, it seems like when I have sinus pressure or sneezing that I have these. I used to think that it was hormonal. I just had my 2nd one for the day.
Sometimes I can go weeks or months without one and sometimes I can have one daily for a week. I have had cat scans, mri's and other tests but they found nothing.

Marianne said...

I've been experiencing SS for about nine years now. I feel that mine are related to menopause and hormonal changes. Last year I had 11 episodes up to August and none since then. Very random. At first they scared me but since finding out what it is, I just relax when an episode comes on and ride it out. Believe it is rare and have never met anyone else who experiences this. Pleased to find this site and know I am not alone.

Ron Dennis said...

I have had these flashing zig zag comic strip, things for about three years now. Sorry I say "comic strip", but it is very similar to how cartoonists show someone being shocked or whatever. I think you know what I mean.I was quite nauseous the first time but after it happened the second time I just sat down and waited for it to go away. But what I also have is a strange light that comes and goes like a candle being waved across in front of one's face. it is a bright white light and it moves from right to left each time quite quickly and then disappears.

Terri@thefountain said...

Just returned from the hospital after this experience, searching here for a story matching mine. The similarities found here: 1) semi-circular spiked light in field of vision 2) eye discomfort. BUT... I didn't find the language disability I experienced. Has anyone experienced this symptom? I honestly thought it was a stroke. No slurred speach; I just couldn't figure how to say words, or type or spell them. I couldn't understand your words. This was far scarier than what I am hearing other contributors describe. I was at work and it simply paralyzed me from even the simplest task. I went from designing a new spreadsheet and formulae to not knowing how to spell "the".

Terri@thefountain said...

Just returned from hospital with this event which mimicked stroke. My symptoms went well beyond the crescent with spikes "sunburst" light. I went from designing a spreadsheet/formulae to not being able to understand or even spell "the". After all the tests, the doctor labeled it miggraine with "scintillating scotoma" and added some neurological side effects. I'd say! It stripped me of understanding/communication for about 15 minutes. Then restored it (I would say completely restored, but I haven't returned to work yet... more to come.)

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Terri@thefountain:
What a strange and scary experience. I'm concerned about the cognitive aspect of it and your not being able to communicate. That seems like more than SS. I would recommend a consultation with a neurologist, preferably at an academic medical center.

no one. said...

hello. i am 26 years old and i have been getting these for a few years. after it happens i always feel tired, upset and weird

how can i get a doctor to help cos i am told not to act like im diagnosing myself but i need help.

no one. said...

been getting these for years now. i never knew why til i figured it out. doctors didnt know what i was talking about. but it affects me. problem is. how would a doctor handle me bringing in info? im 26 years old

Anonymous said...

This is a scary sensation that I've been getting the past few years and it really freaks me out everytime. It JUST happened again and lasted 5 minutes. I have no other signs of a migraine coming on, and haven't had a migraine in the last 2 months. Interestingly, when I get the migraines, I don't get this visual thing. It usually happens just willy-nilly for a few minutes to an hour, then goes away, without ever getting a migraine. It is SCARY! For a while I thought I had to worry about some weird brain tumor or something....

Anonymous said...

My first ss was Sept 2013. I was under an enormous amount of stress at work. I saw a shining silver V that's all. I left work and went straight to my ophthalmologist . She gave me a handout on scintillating scotoma. It's a relief to know what it is called. No migraine pain. Thank you for this blog.

Toni Brayer, MD said...

To all the recent commenters: Thank you for sharing your stories. Isn't it wonderful to have the internet to alleviate fear and learn about the amazing human body. Lots of SS experiences out there!

Molly Smith said...

It is indeed so wonderful to have the internet to share about this. Mine was first when I was in law school in 1987, with regular episodes after that. Definitely stress-related. It has only been two years that a doctor finally gave me the word "scintillating scotoma." Then when I had that word, I found you guys. Both knowing the label and reading your regular posts have helped my confidence immensely. Which helps with stress. Which means I rarely have these ss episodes now. Gosh, it is just a big circle of love and support and stress busting isn't it? I read these posts and I see the fear I used to have and I send good thoughts and prayers to each of these people even if I don't post back to them Thank you very much for running this site.

-Molly in Niwot Colorado

Melanie said...

I just started having these about 3 weeks ago - 'first one scared me to death. I mentioned it to my sisters, and they both have strange visual things that happen, but one has exactly the same thing as me, the SS. She said her Dr. told her its a side affect of her fibromyalgia. But I don't think I have that. I do have "positional" vertigo(for 25 years), and nystagmus when doing close-up focus work. I do have numerous neurological problems due to spinal cord injury (via surgery to remove tumor there), some ulnar palsy from the cervical (4 herniated discs and stenosis there), and taking meds for macular degeneration trying to form. I'm now 60, female. I've appreciated this blog and reading other people's experiences with this. My SS is typical, affecting the central vision with flashing lights, then the "aura" appears, gradually moving outward, looking like multiple waves moving. I can't see through them. I've had it on one side, and also on both sides of the peripheral vision. It lasts usually for an hour. The headache that follows is not bad, and naproxen fixes that. This all started after a contrast arteriogram. 'no blockage, just an irregular heartbeat for about 4 months. 'was told not to do anything about the heart. Considering that I have the problems I have, would you advise me to go back to the neurologist and have a CT scan or MRI?

DocG said...

Well I'm a 56 year old male and I just had my first experience with a fortification scotoma in my right eye. Funny thing, this one did not start in the center of the field, instead first appeared at the edge of the field and stayed there for 7 minutes and disappeared. Fluttering triangles of orange and blue - quite the light show. That was 46 minutes ago and I sit here alone waiting for either a bad migraine or a stoke to hit me. I have no health insurance so I'm on my own with this. The web suggests full blood work up to determine a host of other underlying problems that are serious. It also recommends MRIs and a 72-hour EEG. People without insurance don't get MRIs, unless the presented symptoms are apparently life threatening. Maybe I should call the Affordable Care Act health exchange and get another quote for the non-affordable insurance they peddle. Wish me luck....

Toni Brayer, MD said...

Melanie: your symptoms sound classic and likely have nothing to do with your heart .

DocG: yes do check again and see if you can find an affordable plan under the exchange. It will make you feel more secure and will be worth it. . Even with insurance you don't need an MRI or EEG with those symptoms. Most SS do not have a headache. Thanks for sharing.

Megan E said...

Dear Dr Brayer,
Many thanks for your post. This has happened to me several times over the years but a diagnosis has never been given to me when I have described it to Doctors or Optometrists. I have just had another episode today and tried a goodle search which led me to this site.

I do suffer from migranes (cluster) and today's episode gave me a bad headache but not what I would describe as a migrane (I asssociate a 'migrane' as a severe headache resulting in vomiting before any relief is felt).

Funnily enough, because I was looking up the internet at the time I also realised that like
another person decribed above(Terri@thefountain), I also could not really take in what I was reading and I could also not pronouce easy words when I tried to say them out loud. I

My zigzag silvery coloured 'C' appears reversed - coming in from the right. It blocked my field of vision and I first noticed it as I was reading the paper at the time and suddently I could not see large areas of text.

I could also still see the 'semi circle zig zag image' if I closed either my left or right eye independently OR when both eyes were shut at the same time ... but to me it still appeared' that it was only my right eye affected. Wierd!

There was no slurred speach; I just couldn't figure how to say words, and I couldn't understand your words. I have had a couple of episodes of minor aphasia over the years which have also resolved after a short period of time (no visual disturbance associated).

Today's scintillating scotoma symptoms disappated after 30mins or so ....but I had a headache and 'off feeling' for most of the rest of the day as well as some eye and sinus discomfort (though this has been on left side of face).

Thank you for finally giving me a diagnosis. The picture you showed was virtually exactly what I experienced visually.

Megan