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Kaleidoscope vision refers to short-term distorted vision that causes visual images to look blurry, broken up, and bright in color — as though you are looking through a kaleidoscope.
This type of vision is a side effect of a migraine aura, which can affect all of your senses, including your sense of smell and hearing.
Experiencing kaleidoscope vision can be scary. And while visual aura symptoms are usually not a major cause for concern, kaleidoscopic vision can be a sign of something more serious. This is why it’s essential to talk to an eye doctor if you experience frequent or long-lasting visual migraines.
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There are a few causes of kaleidoscope vision. Typically, migraine headaches are at the root of visual disturbances like kaleidoscope vision.
Migraines are common. Eighteen percent of women and 6% of men experience them.2
There are different types of migraines, but a visual migraine is usually what causes kaleidoscope vision. Your brain’s nerve cells fire erratically, which can cause aches and pains, as well as some visual disruptions. Fortunately, these types of migraines usually pass in about 10 to 30 minutes.7
However, while visual migraines are often mistaken for retinal migraines, they are different. A retinal migraine happens in just one eye and causes you to see scintillations (or twinkling lights) and scotoma (or blind spots).
Retinal migraines can also cause temporary vision loss or peripheral vision loss. You will experience visual symptoms first, followed by a headache within the hour.4
If you have frequent or persistent migraines that cause visual irregularities of any kind, consult your eye specialist. Kaleidoscope vision — and migraines in general — can be a symptom of a more serious underlying health concern. For example, it could be an early symptom of a stroke, brain injury, or other neurological disorder.
Diabetes can cause kaleidoscope vision. Diabetes is a disease that happens when your blood sugar, also known as your blood glucose, is too high.9
Blood glucose, which comes from the food that you eat, serves as your body’s primary source of energy. The hormone insulin helps transfer the glucose from your diet into your cells for you to use as energy.
Sometimes, your body does not make enough insulin (type II diabetes), if any at all (type I diabetes). In this case, glucose stays in your blood, causing your blood sugar levels to increase.9
While one in four people don’t know that they have diabetes, 30.3 million people in the United States (which is 9.4% of the population) have it. In fact, about one in four people who are over the age of 65 years old have diabetes.9
Diabetes can cause several subsequent health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and eye problems. High blood sugar can ultimately cause ocular migraines that can, in turn, cause kaleidoscope vision.
There are three types of visual auras you might experience with a migraine: 7
Kaleidoscopic vision is considered an altered visual aura.8
Here are some common signs and symptoms of kaleidoscope vision:
Not everyone who experiences kaleidoscope vision experiences headaches. It may take one hour for a headache to develop after noticing visual auras.7
While the visual symptoms of kaleidoscope vision can feel alarming, they may not be anything to worry about. You could just have an ocular migraine. About a quarter of people who get migraines experience visual disturbances.8
If you experience kaleidoscope vision regularly, notice a sudden change in your visual system, or are having extreme difficulty with visual processing, seek medical attention right away. Kaleidoscope vision can be serious.
One possible cause of an ocular migraine is visual dysfunction, such as binocular visual dysfunction (BVD). This refers to a misalignment of the eyes that causes a discrepancy in their lines of sight.1
But a visual migraine headache could also be a symptom of a stroke, which can be fatal.5
Research has also found that migraines are associated with multiple sclerosis.3 More specifically, migraines are three times more common for people with multiple sclerosis than the general population.3
Migraines can also signify brain damage, especially if you experience extreme symptoms like temporary blindness and issues with your other senses. If you cover one eye and have no trouble seeing with the other, the issue is likely coming from the covered eye.
If you do not notice a difference when you cover either eye, it could mean your brain is involved.
If you are experiencing an altered aura like kaleidoscope vision because of visual misalignment, wearing eyeglasses to correct your vision can help.
You can also take some medications to help with ocular migraines. These may include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium. Consult your doctor about your migraine symptoms to determine which option is best for you.
If your kaleidoscopic vision is a result of an underlying health concern like diabetes, seek medical attention. You will need to treat diabetes as the root of your vision problems. For example, your doctor may give you a strict diet plan to follow, and it’s important to move your body more.
You may be able to prevent kaleidoscope vision, depending on its cause. For example, eating a healthy diet and exercising are key to preventing diseases like diabetes that can cause vision problems.
You may consider medication to prevent migraines if you have two or more migraines in a given month and they cause disabilities for at least three days per month. You may also consider preventative medication if you find yourself taking medicine to treat migraines more than twice per week or if treatments do not seem to work.6
Consult your doctor about your symptoms and whether or not preventative care is right for you. Though millions of Americans suffer from migraines that cause visual symptoms, only three to 13% are on preventative therapy. Meanwhile, an estimated 38% of them need preventive care.2
AJ;, Feinberg DL;Rosner MS;Rosner. “Validation of the Binocular Vision Dysfunction Questionnaire (BVDQ).” Otology & Neurotology : Official Publication of the American Otological Society, American Neurotology Society [and] European Academy of Otology and Neurotology, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Estemalik, E, and S Tepper. “Preventive Treatment in Migraine and the New Us Guidelines.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Dove Medical Press, 2013.
Kister I;Caminero AB;Monteith TS;Soliman A;Bacon TE;Bacon JH;Kalina JT;Inglese M;Herbert J;Lipton RB; “Migraine Is Comorbid with Multiple Sclerosis and Associated with a More Symptomatic Ms Course.” The Journal of Headache and Pain, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Retinal Migraine.” American Migraine Foundation, 10 July 2020.
Russ. “Kaleidoscope Vision.” Optometrists.org, 22 July 2021.
Schroeder, Barrett M. “AAFP/ACP-ASIM Release Guidelines on the Management and Prevention of Migraines.” American Family Physician, 15 Mar. 2003.
“Transient Ischaemic Attacks: Mimics and Chameleons.” UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“Visual Disturbances Related TO Migraine and Headache.” American Migraine Foundation, 10 July 2020.
“What Is Diabetes?” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.