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Kaleidoscope Vision: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Kaleidoscope vision is considered a temporary distortion of vision that results in blurry, brightly colored, and broken up images — similar to how things appear when looking through a kaleidoscope. 

Kaleidoscope vision is most commonly caused by migraine headaches. When vision issues accompany migraines, they are known as ocular or retinal migraines. Experts believe kaleidoscope vision may be part of the migraine aura for some people.

Although kaleidoscope vision wears off fairly quickly (usually within an hour), it can sometimes be a sign of certain health conditions that may require medical treatment. Possible underlying conditions include vision problems, brain injuries, or even an oncoming stroke.

Causes of Kaleidoscope Vision

Again, the most common cause of kaleidoscope vision is a migraine headache. Diabetes has also been linked to the condition.

Visual & Retinal Migraines  

There are various types of migraines, and visual migraines are the most common culprit when it comes to kaleidoscope vision. The brain’s nerve cells can sometimes fire somewhat erratically, which can cause aches, pains, and visual distortions. Visual migraines generally subside within 10 to 30 minutes.

Retinal migraines differ from visual migraines in that they only affect one eye. Retinal migraines often cause individuals to see twinkling lights (also referred to as scintillations as well as blind spots or scotoma). Retinal migraines can also cause temporary and/or peripheral vision loss. 

Diabetes

Kaleidoscope vision is sometimes experienced by individuals with diabetes. 

Individuals who live with diabetes are far more likely to experience migraines than individuals who do not have this condition. Poorly controlled diabetes, such as uncontrolled blood sugar levels, can trigger kaleidoscopic vision in addition to other vision problems, including diabetic retinopathy, which is an eye disease. 

If you experience kaleidoscope vision, it could be a sign that your blood sugar levels are spiking. Aim to get your levels under control as soon as possible, and you’ll likely see vision improvement. 

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Signs & Symptoms of Kaleidoscope Vision 

Kaleidoscope vision is categorized as altered visual auras or seeing distorted images. One simple example of an altered visual aura is seeing a straight line that appears to be wavy.

Symptoms of kaleidoscope vision include the following:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fractured vision
  • Visual distortions and/or visual hallucinations
  • Seeing images that are overly bright and shiny
  • Severe headaches

Additional signs of kaleidoscope vision include other migraine symptoms, such as nausea, severe pain, sensitivity to light, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

How to Diagnose the Issue

Kaleidoscope vision is fairly easy to diagnose since vision appears as if you were looking through a kaleidoscope. However, the underlying condition triggering the visual distortion may be more difficult to diagnose.

If you’re experiencing kaleidoscope vision, see an eye care specialist and consult with your general physician. Though this vision problem is most often caused by migraines, it is also linked to other health conditions, such as ministroke, diabetes, underlying retinal damage, and migraines related to MS (multiple sclerosis). It’s important to rule out these serious triggers before moving forward.

Is Kaleidoscope Vision Dangerous?

Kaleidoscope vision is not considered dangerous in and of itself in cases where it is not indicative of certain underlying health complications or conditions. However, kaleidoscope vision is classified as a visual distortion. 

It can most certainly disrupt an individual’s ability to drive a vehicle or operate any sort of machinery, and it can make it difficult or even impossible to accomplish everyday tasks. This is amplified further since it often occurs with migraines, so the individual is likely in intense pain.

If you’re experiencing kaleidoscope vision while driving, it’s best to park your vehicle in a safe place until migraine symptoms and vision issues subside.

Kaleidoscope vision can also be the result of the health conditions mentioned previously. If you live with diabetes, kaleidoscope vision is a sign that your blood sugar is too high, which often requires medical consultation. 

Kaleidoscope vision can be related to some sort of visual dysfunction, including binocular visual dysfunction, and it can be the sign of a stroke or multiple sclerosis. If you suddenly experience vision issues, see a doctor promptly.

Can You Prevent Kaleidoscope Vision?

Depending on the underlying cause, it is possible to take measures that will help you avoid kaleidoscope vision symptoms.

Maintain a healthy diet that is full of nutrients. Exercise regularly, and engage in mindfulness practices such as meditation to reduce stress and promote overall wellness. 

Yoga has been shown to help prevent aches and pains, migraines included. If your kaleidoscope vision is caused by migraines, aim to identify and avoid your triggers as much as possible.

Certain types of medication can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines and kaleidoscope vision. Consult with your physician to decide the best course of action for preventing migraines. Depending on how your migraines present, your doctor may recommend different approaches. 

Treatment Options for Migraines & Kaleidoscope Vision

Your doctor may recommend some of these treatment approaches to address migraines and related vision issues.

Eyeglasses & Contact Lenses

Kaleidoscope vision is often a symptom of an underlying vision problem, including misalignment, which can be corrected with prescription glasses or contact lenses. Correcting an underlying vision problem via professional care will often reduce or eliminate undesirable symptoms.

Medication

There are certain medications available for reducing and/or treating migraine symptoms like kaleidoscope vision. 

Medications that have been shown to help with migraines and kaleidoscope vision include the following:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen sodium
  • Triptans
  • Opioids

Treating the Underlying Condition 

Individuals who experience kaleidoscope vision as the result of an underlying health condition must seek treatment for the root issue. For instance, in cases of underlying diabetes, proper treatment will involve maintaining balanced blood sugar levels, which will reduce migraines and visual problems. In other cases, this treatment might be urgent.

Your doctor may have you keep a journal, tracking when you experience kaleidoscope vision. This process can help to identify triggers and aid in preventing migraines and vision issues going forward.

References

  1. Migraine Headache. (November 2022). StatPearls.

  2. Differential Diagnosis of Visual Phenomena Associated With Migraine: Spotlight on Aura and Visual Snow Syndrome. (January 2023). Diagnostics.

  3. What Triggers Kaleidoscope Vision? (December 2022). The Healthy Journal.

  4. This Eye Problem Is an Early Warning Sign of Stroke. (September 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

  5. ‘Kaleidoscope Vision’ May Be a Migraine Aura. (February 2021). Sun Journal.

  6. Retinal Migraine Headache. (July 2022). StatPearls.

  7. Retinal Migraine: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment. (May 2022). American Migraine Foundation.

  8. Controlled Blood Sugar Improves the Eye’s Accommodative Ability in Type-1 Diabetes. (July 2020). Eye: The Scientific Journal of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

  9. Migraine Triggers: An Overview of the Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Atmospherics, and Their Effects on Neural Networks. (April 2021). Cureus.

  10. Triptans in the Acute Treatment of Migraine: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. (July 2015). Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

  11. Comparison of New Pharmacologic Agents With Triptans for Treatment of Migraine: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (October 2021). JAMA.

Last Updated April 5, 2023

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.

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