Here is the video and a quick summary of Professor Owen White’s presentation at the 2018 Visual Snow Conference event. He discusses Visual Snow as a sensory processing disorder and gives an overview of research for which Joanne Fielding then goes into greater detail with.
Visual Snow Conference
In total there are five presentations from the Visual Snow Conference that I have chosen to write about. I recommend that you read about them/watch the videos in this order. The first two are more general, the last three go into more complex detail. If you have already seen some of the videos I recommend that you watch them again anyway, as it is easy to miss certain details.
1. Four Myths About Visual Snow (Peter Goadsby)
2. Visual Snow And Sensory Misperception (Owen White)
3. Behavioural Research Into Visual Snow (Joanne Fielding)
4. The Origins Of Visual Snow (James T. Fulton)
5. Visual Snow And Visual Pathways (Viktoria Pelak)
* These are not necessarily the presentation titles the authors used at the event
Medical Profession And Visual Snow
Professor White discusses in good humour the problems that he and medical profession have in dealing with something like Visual Snow. Classically trained doctors he says, may not question what they know, and what they know is ironically often what they can see. He brings about the example of blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. Depending on which part of the elephant they are touching they get a different idea for what the object they are feeling actually is. In our case Visual Snow is like an elephant within many more elephants, within many more elephants – that doctors may try to blindly feel.
Disease he says is a loss or impairment of function rather than a structural change. Structural changes within the brain (i.e those that may be more visible on the “elephant”) are not proportional to functional changes and are still in today’s medical world difficult to observe – particularly in the context of Visual Snow.
Investigations such as MRI scans etc. can be useful in research to rule out certain things but in a clinical setting (i.e. for you and me) it is of dubious relevance says White.
Visual Snow As A Sensory Processing Disorder
Vision he says is the perception of images inside of brain, not a stream of consciousness. So what we actually see is remembered data accumulated over time in one environment. Information transmitted along the optic nerves refreshes our visual perception and the interpretation of vision is dependent on complex network interactions.
More than visual information projects to the visual cortex as well. Visual Snow according to White represents (at least in part ) the breakdown of filtering or hyperexcitability of the visual cortex. In this sense, when Visual Snow is considered as a sensory processing disorder it can be a template for looking at other sensory disturbances such as tinnitus.
White underlines that neurology cannot be approached without understanding ophthalmology and vision. He explains that 48% of all neurons that enter and leave the nervous system are related to vision and control of eye movements, as well as 53% of cerebral networks. Half of the brain is effectively involved in vision, and Visual Snow may also therefore help understanding for how the brain works.
A major function of central nervous system he says is to configure the way sensory information becomes linked to adaptive responses and meaningful experiences. In other words what we see helps determine what we might do.
In order to measure network function in Visual Snow there are some sensory and behavioural variables that can be looked at and controlled, and White’s research team are attempting exactly that. Defined and measurable parameters as a result of this process will hopefully allow a more accurate recognition of Visual Snow and a measurable evaluation of new therapies.
White raises an important point that if something goes wrong in a network it can occur at different locations and have different causes. For some Visual Snow is a disorder (an impairment of function), for some it may be a variation of normal function
White says the future is uncertain of time, he does not how long it will take to make progress. That progress will require a better understanding, quantification of symptoms, qualification of the disorder, and trials of therapy. White says current therapy in the form of medication is ineffective, and so currently learning to cope and taking a natural approach (as I have been doing) he suggests is more appropriate.
It is interesting to see how well it will be possible to quantify and measure Visual Snow. This is a very promising direction for developing clinical therapy.
I think the point that Visual Snow can be important for much wider medical progress and understanding is important. Making connections to new fields of research is helpful.
The problem unfortunately is that even with possible interest there are going to be barriers that can only be overcome with time, money, and greater understanding.
Truthfully, nobody wants to climb an unexplored mountain, aside from those who have some fundamental interest in that mountain or those stranded on it. More people would only be more willing once certain footholds are already put in place. Nonetheless it is great that some of these footholds are starting to appear.