The Link Between Visual Snow Syndrome and Tinnitus
In its simplest presentation, Tinnitus is a ringing in the ears. It’s an audiological and neurological condition experienced by nearly 50 million Americans and is caused by damage to the hearing nerve in the inner ear. The American Tinnitus Association says tinnitus can also cause sufferers to hear constant buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, clicking and screeching. In rare cases some patients report hearing music. You can imagine the level of dismay and frustration that tinnitus can cause. Roughly 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus and 2 million people have extreme and debilitating cases.
Researchers and physicians have now discovered that another condition can be connected to tinnitus and it’s called Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS) – also referred to as Eye Tinnitus even though symptoms can be auditory and tactile, as well. Sixty-three percent of people who suffer with VSS also suffer from tinnitus. VSS is considered rare but research into the condition is shedding more light on tinnitus, as well.
When someone has Tinnitus, they hear things that others can’t hear while those with VSS see things that others can’t see.
Visual Snow Syndrome is a persistent visual “display” of snow or television-like static that covers parts of or the entire eye.
VSS has many different symptoms that can be manifested in visual, auditory and tactile ways including:
- Continuous tiny white dots zigzagging across the field of vision
- Vibration in text
- Trailing after images and negative images
- Bright flashes
- Semi-loud noises become annoyingly loud
- Difficulty blocking out environmental noises
- Difficulty isolating one person’s voice from background noise
- Pulsating, buzzing sensation in the arms, legs and thighs
- Fine tremors in the hands and feet
Researchers now know that VSS is a central sensitization disorder. It is distinct from migraines and migraines with auras and now has its own separate classification as a medical disorder.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, people with VSS can suffer from anxiety, stress, depression and find it difficult to concentrate. The condition is exacerbated by lack of sleep, a cold, the flu, alcohol and caffeine consumption, and eating too much sodium or sugar.
Treatments for Visual Snow Syndrome (VSS)
The treatments for VSS may surprise you. They include a healthy diet, increased exercise, and the management of stress and anxiety through mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation.
Matthew Renze suffers with VSS. In his presentation to a conference on tinnitus, he relayed the fact that those exact treatments had been suggested to him by the Mayo Clinic. He was hesitant to adopt them. However, once he did he was able to manage his VSS and live a productive life. Matthew described his VSS management program and now measures results through biofeedback in his home:
- Diet- a healthy diet full of fresh foods that are good for the body and mind
- Increased exercise – biking to manage stress and anxiety
- Yoga – helped more than exercise because it calms the mind and reduces anxiety
- Meditation – calms the sympathetic nervous system, reduces pain and elevates mental activity
Neurologists, ophthalmologists, psychologists and other specialists are continuing to research visual snow syndrome in order to understand it more thoroughly. The good news is that they now understand that it is its own very unique condition and not a subset of migraines. That will lead to increased research and hopefully future treatments.