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Ocular and Visual Migraines: What You Need To Know


Ocular Migraines

Ocular migraines are rare conditions that are distinguished temporary loss of vision or temporary blindness in one of the eyes. These migraines are believed to be a result of reduced blood flow or possibly blood vessel spasms behind the eye or in the retina.

When a person has an ocular migraine, the affected eye’s vision will typically fully restore within one hour. These migraines can sometimes be painless, or they may sometimes occur with or after a migraine headache. 

Unfortunately, ocular migraines are typically used to describe far more common conditions—known as migraine auras or visual migraines—that have very comparable symptoms. To create an even more puzzling situation, ocular and visual migraines have numerous other names that can be utilized to describe the conditions.

In fact, here is a brief look at some of the terms that can be used to describe the conditions that can result in disturbances to your vision temporarily:

  • Eye migraine – This is simply another term that can be used in place of ocular migraine.
  • Migraine aura – This is a harmless yet common condition that is distinguished by temporary disturbances of one’s vision that tend to go away within about half an house. Unlike an ocular migraine, however, a migraine aura (aka visual migraine) often impacts both of the eyes.
  • Migraine with aura – This often refers to a migraine headache that has visual disturbances with it. As a general rule, the disturbances can last for as long as 30 minutes prior to the headache beginning. Typically, migraine with aura, visual migraine, and migraine aura are all terms that are utilized interchangeably.
  • Optical migraine – This is considered the same as an ocular migraine.
  • Ophthalmic migraine – This is considered the same as an ocular migraine.
  • Retinal migraine – This is considered the same as an ocular migraine.
  • Visual migraine – This is considered the same as a migraine aura.

The rest of this article will compare ocular migraines and visual migraines.

Symptoms of Ocular and Visual Migraines

Generally, with ocular migraines, the symptoms consist of a small blind spot that impacts the central vision of one of the eyes. The blind small does get larger in size, though, which makes it impossible to read or drive safely with the affected eye. In some instances, your entire visual field of one of the eyes can be impacted. Typically, this does not last for longer than an hour.

The symptoms with a visual migraine can vary greatly, and they may include the following:

  • A zigzag or wavy ring of colored light that surrounds your central blind spot.
  • A scintillating scotoma, which is a flickering blind spot that is near or in the center of the field of view.
  • A blind spot that gradually migrates across the visual field.

Visual migraine symptoms generally impact both of the eyes and don’t last longer than about half an hour. After the symptoms subside, a migraine headache will typically follow, though it is possible for no headache at all to occur.

If you are having any kind visual disturbance like a blind spot and you are uncertain whether it is a visual or ocular migraine, cover one of your eyes at a time. If you are only experiencing the disturbance in one eye, there is a good chance that you are experiencing an ocular migraine. If the disturbance is affecting both of your eyes, then it is more than likely a visual migraine.

However, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you suddenly experience a blind spot in your direct field of vision, contact a local eye doctor immediately so that it can be determined whether you are dealing with something harmless (like a visual migraine) or something more serious like a retinal detachment or an eye stroke.

Ocular and Visual Migraine Causes

It is believed that the causes of ocular migraines and migraine headaches are the same. Migraine headaches are said to have a genetic basis, with some studies reporting as many as 70 percent of individuals who have migraine headaches have a family history of the disorder.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that migraine headaches seem to be triggered by a mechanism that is deep within the brain that becomes activated, which then releases inflammatory substances around blood vessels and nerves in the brain and head. Various imaging studies have shown that there are alterations in the flow of blood to the brain during both migraine auras and ocular migraines. Why this occurs and how the spur-of-the-moment resolution of the ocular and visual migraines occurs is unknown.

Common triggers of migraines that can result in a vulnerable individual to experience a migraine attack (like visual and ocular migraines) include specific foods like red wine, caffeinated drinks, aged cheeses, chocolate, and smoked meats.

Food additives, like MSG, and artificial sweeteners can trigger migraines in some people. Other potential triggers of migraines may include perfumes, cigarettes smoke, and other powerful odors, emotional stress, flickering or glaring lights, and lack of sleep.

Treatment and Prevention

As previously mentioned, disturbances of the visual field caused by visual or ocular migraines often disappear within 60 minutes or less with no treatment.

If you are driving or performing some kind of task that relies on good vision when a visual or ocular migraine occurs, you need to stop what you’re doing and relax until your vision has a chance to stabilize. In the event that you are behind the wheel, pull over to the size of the road as soon as you are safely able to do so and wait until the disturbances in your vision have passed completely.

If you experience disturbances that accompany a migraine headache, reach out to your primary care provider or even a neurologist for a full assessment of your episodes. He or she will be able to provide you with information regarding the latest medications for migraine treatment, including medications that are designed to prevent future migraine attacks. Individuals who experience migraines that last for 24 hours or longer or have over two migraine headaches a month typically make good candidates for preventative treatment.

It is recommended to keep a diet and activity journal prior to your migraine aura or ocular migraine episodes to see if it possible to identify possible triggers that can be avoided in the future. If it turns out that your ocular or visual migraines may be stress-related, you may be able to reduce the frequency of your attacks without taking medication by doing the following:

  • Avoiding common triggers of migraines
  • Eating healthy meals regularly
  • Participating in stress-busting activities like massage and yoga
  • Getting plenty of restful sleep

For more information about ocular and visual migraines or if you have experienced visual disturbances, contact the professionals at Performance Vision.

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