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  • Abigail Kim

Kaleidoscope Vision: A Warning Sign for Migraine

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

by Abigail Kim


One day, you may suddenly see images broken up by colorful and sparkling aura or flashes of light cross your field of vision. Then, you may head for bed because you know that the temporary visual distortions not only last about 20-30 minutes at a time, but also lead to severe headaches. The next thing you can do is just wait for it to ease up. This is best known as migraine symptoms.

Migraine can be broken into several categories. The “common migraine” is a headache accompanied by light and sound sensitivity without any visual symptoms like aura. On the other hand, a “classic migraine” is a headache with a visual aura or visual distortion. “Aura” usually includes visual symptoms such as seeing zigzagging lines, shapes, or flashes and it may lead to losing vision or blackout for 10 to 30 minutes. Lastly, an “ocular or visual migraine” has visual aura without a headache. Therefore, you can say aura or visual distortion does not always lead to migraine headache, and not all migraine headaches have an aura.

The ocular migraine is well known to cause Kaleidoscope visions that distort a person’s vision resulting in seeing things as if looking through a Kaleidoscope. At first, vision may slowly become blurred or dimmed or there may be flashes of light. Then some people see a mosaic-like pattern of blank spots, which causes total loss of vision in one eye for about 10 to 30 minutes before vision gradually returns.

Although the exact causes of ocular migraine remains unknown, many experts suggest that it occurs due to structural abnormalities in the visual cortex. A study (2015) examined the MRI data of patients who have one-sided ocular migraine shows that there are noticeable differences in the thickness of certain areas of the visual cortex and this can make the visual cortex more sensitive to neuronal activity. Some experts believe that the kaleidoscope vision is caused by electric impulses in the brain. In addition, a family history is very common, so the doctor will often ask about headaches in one’s parents or siblings. Moreover, a person’s hormonal status can affect the pattern of migraines they experience. Women tend to experience migraine under a more regular pattern. Many individuals can identify specific triggers for their migraines that include fatigue, skipping a meal, caffeine withdrawal, stress, and certain foods like chocolates. However, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital, it is important to note that there may be other significant causes to migraine depending on the individual.

In order to prevent further pain and future problems, patients who experience frequent kaleidoscope vision are recommended to visit the hospital. As soon as people experience abnormal vision that matches the symptoms of a kaleidoscopic vision, they are advised to schedule a meeting with their optometrists. When patients experience visual distortions without headaches, it might mean that the headaches will happen quite a while later. In order to reduce the possible headaches, doctors suggest patients to take medication as soon as the visual distortions happen. Some may find eating something or having caffeine helpful, and resting well through additional sleep or massages may reduce headaches when migraine happens. However, patients should have in mind that there are no methods 100% effective for now.

Works Cited

Eske, Jamie. “What Is Kaleidoscope Vision?” Medical News Today, 12 July 2019, Accessed 26 Mar. 2020.

Hecht, Marjorie. What’s Causing My Kaleidoscope Vision? Healthline. 2 May 2018. Accessed 1 Apr. 2020.

Hougaard, Anders. “Investigations of Functional and Structural Changes in Migraine with Aura by Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” Danish Medical Journal, Aug. 2015, pp. 11–20.

Swift, Erin. “Kaleidoscopes, Zig Zags and Other Weird Visual Disturbances.” COA Vision - California Optometric Association, 3 May 2017, Accessed 25 Mar 2020.

“Visual Migraine.” Patient’s Guide to Visual Migraine – Brigham and Women’s Hospital,


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