Why does kaleidoscope vision occur?

Kaleidoscope vision is often the aura of visual or ocular migraine. However, it is also an early sign of stroke in some patients.

Last update: 06 September, 2022

Kaleidoscope vision is a visual illusion created by the brain in which bright or fractured colors are displayed, similar to those that can be seen through this object. It presents as one of the auras of ocular migraine, but it can also be associated with other more serious pathologies, such as transient ischemic attacks and retinal detachment.

The term aura refers to the sensory disturbances that may occur prior to the onset of the migraine headache. Kaleidoscope vision is not the only associated visual disturbance, as blind spots or bright lights may also be seen.

Auras or sensory disturbances can affect up to 20% of people with migraines. They precede the pain and last approximately 30 minutesalthough they can be extended from 5 minutes to 1 hour.

The headache usually occurs 10 to 15 minutes after the aura.

What is kaleidoscope vision?

Kaleidoscope vision is a illusion produced by alterations in the visual cortex of the brain. Colors are brighter or broken, and images sometimes move.

It can affect only one eye or both. As well as only a part of the visual field or the visual field in its entirety.

It is caused by a sudden increase in neuronal activity. and occurs with or without pain. The medical term is scintillating scotoma.

Visual or ocular migraine is the main cause of kaleidoscope vision. However, it can also appear in retinal migraine, stroke or the use of hallucinogens.

Although it is characteristic of migraine with aura, this alteration can occur in other more severe and serious conditions.

ocular migraine

the so-called visual migraine or ocular it is due to structural abnormalities in the neurons of the visual cortex. It may take up to an hour after kaleidoscope viewing to experience the headache. As in other cases, there may be no headache, which is called acetalgic migraine.

Sensory disturbances usually last between 10 and 30 minutes. but they can be extended by 1 hour. In addition to being produced by structural abnormalities of the visual cortex, they may be due to binocular visual dysfunction (improper alignment of the eyes).

retinal migraine

Although it can be confused, retinal migraine as a cause of kaleidoscope vision has similar symptoms, although the origin is different. It is a response to reduced blood flow to the retina, so the symptoms are unilateral.

In addition to kaleidoscope vision, it causes flickering lights, a blind spot, or temporary blindness. Associated headache is throbbing and is present in the middle of the head on the side of the affected eye.

In visual or ocular migraine, the distorted image is in both eyes. In the retina it is in one.

To be sure if it affects both eyes, it is recommended to cover one and then the other. If both are affected, the distorted image is seen in each eye separately.

Cerebrovascular accident (CVA)

It is caused by blockage of blood flow to the brain. It can be associated with damage to the blood vessels, blood clots that obstruct the passage or narrowing due to the presence of plaques with fatty deposits.

It is called transient stroke to the temporary blockade in which symptoms last from a few minutes to a maximum of 24 hours. After a stroke or transient ischemic attack, there is a high chance of having another stroke in the future.

If you have any symptoms of a stroke, you should go to the emergency service immediately. Symptoms vary widely and include the following:

  • Confusion.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Loss of balance and dizziness.
  • Tingling or numbness on one side of the body.


hallucinogen use

Lysergic acid diethylamide (known as LSD) and mescaline produce visual distortions with the presence of very bright color images, but unstable, which can resemble what is visualized when looking through a kaleidoscope. That is why the use of hallucinogens must be ruled out as a cause.

Kaleidoscope vision is an altered visual aura

The different types of visual aura change the way a person sees their surroundings.

There are three variants:

  1. Positive visual aura: an image is displayed that is not actually there. They can be zigzag lines, squiggles, sparkles, or dots.
  2. Negative Visual Aura: there is vision loss that can be partial or total, that is, ranging from blind spots or loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision) to a brief period of total vision loss.
  3. Altered Visual Aura: what is visualized is distorted, without adding or subtracting anything. Objects are seen as a straight, wavy, or blurred line. The perception of the size of objects, their distance and color may also be changed.
Stroke is a severe, life-threatening form of blood flow interruption. Detecting it early is key.

There is no specific treatment for kaleidoscope vision.

Currently, there is no cure for migraine. Kaleidoscope vision, like any other associated symptoms, usually disappears within 1 hour.

However, medications that prevent or relieve the headache can be administered. It is also recommended to sit or lie down in a dark room, without noise, massage the scalp and use a warm compress on the forehead.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, are helpful. In some cases, beta receptor blockers or calcium channel blockers are indicated.



It’s a terrifying symptom

Kaleidoscope vision can be terrifying, especially the first time it occurs. However, it usually subsides in a few minutes, so it is recommended to relax and wait for vision to return to normal before walking, driving, or operating machinery.

Ocular migraine causes vary from person to person. On many occasions, they may not be determined. Some foods, such as caffeine or chocolate, as well as stress conditions, are triggers.

In any case, you should always go to the ophthalmologist if there is kaleidoscope vision.

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