Scintillating Scotoma

i-9e69d772d6e415be3a209ba05381c102-ScintillatingScotoma3.jpgLast night I suffered a less than hour-long bout of scintillating scotoma. It’s a weird kind of snow crash in your visual cortex where part of your field of vision is replaced by sparkly geometric patterns. It happens to me once every few years and is sometimes associated with a headache, sort of migraine lite. The scotoma is quite disorientating, particularly when the affected bit is at the centre of whatever you’re looking at, like last night. I was probably a pitiful sight, squinting out of one corner of my eye at the laptop as I laboured half blindly to download the latest Escape Pod — I needed something to do when I retired to bed. After listening to the Neal Asher story, I got up and took some ibuprophene against the headache that followed the scotoma.

Inspired by Oliver Sachs’s essay “Stereo Sue”, I’ve recently taken up using a contact lens again after many years. Maybe the unfamiliar stereoscopic calculations have taken their toll on my brain. I have a good left eye and a near-sighted right one, so for most of my life my brain has just disregarded the blurry input from one eye and made do with the good signal. The minute I popped in a lens, everything came out in glorious 3D again. I’ve reached the point where objects extending toward me scare me when I’m not wearing a lens, since I can’t see exactly how far away they are the way I’ve recently learned to.

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8 thoughts on “Scintillating Scotoma

  1. Interesting. I have the same problem which you describe – perfect vision in my left eye, with a right eye that’s so weak that my brain only uses it for peripheral vision. I seem to have missed the essay about “Stereo Sue”, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’m just curious: when you say you recently learned to see in 3D, do you mean you learned it on your own? Or did you also need to attend these “vision therapy” sessions? Thanks again!


  2. One contact lens sounds like a pain in the ass to me. No wonder you stopped wearing it. Both my eyes are useless without correction, but if I had your problem, I’d go with a stylish and classic monocle. Less trouble than a contact lens, and you can wear it on a lanyard and only pop it in as necessary. Then, when someone says something astonishing, you can pop it off your face to express surprise. And if you had a monocle, it’d be the perfect accessory when you receive your Nobel prize. In archeology. Monocles are great.

    A less fashion-forward solution, I suppose, would be a pair of glasses with plain glass in one lens. Which, again, you wouldn’t need to wear all the time, but are not as cool as a monocle.


  3. Alex, I believe my right eye went nearsighted some time in adolescence, so I had all the necessary wiring done in childhood. I read the Sachs essay in The Best American Science Writing 2007. It’s a good collection.

    One contact lens sounds like a pain in the ass to me

    Only if you are a very small person or if it is an unusually large contact lens.

    (You are of course right about the monocle.)


  4. I wish I had one bad eye so I could wear a monocle. You cannot justify saying “Egad!” or, “I say!” without one. Every year or so i get a migraine. Sometimes there is a sparkly area. Usually associated with vomiting and pain though.


  5. Interesting, thanks for the info. As cool as it would be to have a monocle, I’m actually looking into getting laser surgery for that one eye. I was mainly curious if I could expect the stereo vision to come back quickly, on it’s own, or whether I’d have to do some follow-up sessions to train myself to use it.


  6. Alex, I’m also thinking of laser surgery. It’ll have to wait for better finances, though. Sachs states that unless your eyesight is good enough to permit stereoscopic vision at least during early infancy, the brain never develops the necessary wetware. Apparently there is a window of opportunity.


  7. Oh Dear!
    I know exactly how it its, I think. I use to have one contactlens in my left eye, to see far forward, and nothing in the right eye so I can read very close and look on very small things with that eye. No trouble.
    But last year when I was very seriously discussing my peoples “beeing or not beeing”, the others were just bad to me, making fun of my feelings. I became very ill and especially my eyes were hurt. I saw white lines on both sides in my head, and I got such a terrible headache. The only thing i could do was to sit outdoor in the darkness and just relax and calm down, only look at the enormous stars without lenses or glases.
    Well it took time, but now I can use contactlenses in the same way again, and I was kicked out from that forum anyway so that helped me too 🙂


  8. I have always experienced attacks of this- in fact I am currently marvelling at the capacity of the human brain to piece together sentences from patches of them spread about the visual field rather then having to register the words directly in the centre, where the spangly angular wibbly bits are currently turning into fuzzy patches 🙂


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