Ocular Migraines: What You Need To Know

What Exactly Causes Ocular Migraines?

A migraine that consists of visual disturbance is known as an ocular migraine. These types of migraines can develop without or with the pain that is associated with a classic migraine.

With an ocular migraine, which is a migraine that has an aura, you might see shimmering or flashing lights, stars, or zigzagging lines. Some individuals have described psychedelic images. This migraine may cause blind spots in your general field of vision. 20 percent of individuals who have had migraines have experienced this type of aura.

Ocular migraines tend to interfere with your overall ability to perform daily tasks like writing, reading, or driving. The symptoms are only temporary, and this type of migraine isn’t considered to be an incredibly serious condition.

This type of migraine is often confused with a retinal migraine, but the two migraines very different from one another. A retinal migraine is actually very rare, and it only affects one eye. Vision loss in only one eye can actually be an indication of a far more grave medical problem. Therefore, if you experience loss of vision in just one of your eyes, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately to rule out underlying conditions.

The cause of ocular migraines is unknown, though one known risk factor is a personal or family history of migraines. Medical professionals have a theory that ocular migraines have similar causes as classic migraines.


Genetics play a role in migraines. Your risk of having migraines is increased if your family has had a history of migraines or ocular migraines.

Hormone Levels

Migraines have been associated to the hormone estrogen. This hormone controls chemicals located in the brain that impact pain sensations. For women, these hormones tend to fluctuate as a result of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, as well as menopause. Hormone levels can also be impacted by birth control and hormone replacement therapy.


Many individuals can identify migraine triggers, but research shows that it’s more likely a mixture of a variety of factors that bring on migraines. Triggers will vary from one person to the next and may include the following:

  • Loud sounds
  • Bright lights
  • Powerful odors
  • Changing weather
  • Anxiety, stress, relaxation after stressful periods
  • Excess caffeine or caffeine withdrawals
  • Alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Foods that contain nitrates (lunch meat, hot dogs)
  • Foods that contain monosodium glutamate, aka MSG (fast foods, spices, seasonings, broths)
  • Foods that contain tyramine (hard sausages, smoked fish, aged cheeses, fava beans, soy products)

You can attempt to detect your migraine triggers by maintaining a headache journal. The journal should include notes on your diet, sleeping habits, exercise, and menstruation.

Ocular Migraines and Aura

There are two main types of migraines that are referred to as ocular migraines. Some individuals will call migraines with auras as ocular migraines.

Some individuals will experience an aura roughly 10 to 30 minutes prior the migraine setting in. Symptoms of auras may include the following:

  • Feeling mentally fuzzy or foggy
  • Tingling or numbness in the face or hands
  • Seeing shimmering spots, blind spots, flashing lights, or zigzag lines
  • Disrupted sense of taste, touch, or smell

All people who have migraines do not experience auras.

Ocular migraines often refer to eye-related migraines that are accompanied by visual disturbances that may or may not have headache pain as well. These migraines are referred to as ophthalmic migraines. Ocular migraines often include some, if not all, of the aura symptoms previously listed. They tend to be the result of migraine activity that occurs within the brain’s visual cortex.

Migraines vs. Headaches

Some individuals use the terms headache and migraine interchangeably, but there is definitely a difference between migraines and tension headaches. The pain from a tension headache tends to be mild to moderate (contrary to the severe pain that is experienced with a cluster headache). Tension headaches are often distracting, though they’re not debilitating. In rare cases, there is sensitivity to sound or light.

With a migraine, though, the pain can be moderate to severe. Many individuals experience an intense and persistent throbbing or pounding. More often than not, the pain is debilitating. Some individuals will experience nausea and/or vomiting, in addition to sensitivity to light and sound. Some individuals will also experience an aura prior to the migraine onset.

Secondary Headaches

In some cases, headaches that are accompanied by an aura may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, which may include the following:

  • Head injury
  • Seizures
  • Brain tumor
  • Hemorrhagic stroke (burst artery inside the brain)
  • Aneurysm (bulging or widening of a part of an artery due to the weakness within the wall of a blood vessel)
  • Ischemic stroke (a blocked brain artery)
  • Arterial dissection (a tear within an artery that provides blood to the brain)
  • Arteriovenous malformation (abnormal tangle of the arteries and veins inside the brain)
  • Hydrocephalus (excess buildup of cerebrospinal fluid inside the brain)
  • Cerebral vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessel in the vein)
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Inflammation due to the encephalitis, meningitis, or other infections
  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Structural abnormalities of the neck, head, or spine
  • Exposure to or withdrawal from toxic substances

Treating and Coping with Migraines

Even if there is no underlying condition, migraines can be extremely debilitating and wreak havoc on your life. If you are experiencing vision disturbances or blind spots, it is important that you allow them to pass before getting behind the wheel.

Ocular migraines tend to go away by themselves within about 30 minutes. It is important to get some rest and avoid any potential triggers like bright lights until any vision disturbances are gone.

Recurring migraines can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Over-the-counter medications like Excedrin migraine or Ibuprofen can be used to minimize the symptoms once you have a migraine. A physician can prescribe the following medications:

  • Beta blockers, which will help to relax your blood vessels
  • Calcium channel blocks, which can help to prevent constriction of the blood vessels
  • Antidepressants or anti-epileptics, which can often be used to prevent or treat migraines

Some prescription medications are taken regularly rather than on an as-needed basis.

If you’re experiencing pain from an ocular migraine, you can do the following:

  • Lie down or sit in a quiet, dark room
  • Massage your scalp with significant pressure
  • Put pressure on your temples
  • Place a damp towel on your forehead


Ocular migraines may not necessarily require treatment, but it is important to talk to a physician if you have the migraines frequently. It is also a good idea to contact your physician if the migraines are occurring more frequently than before. Your physician will be able to ensure there isn’t a serious underlying medical condition, and he or she will be able to prescribe you the necessary medications that will be able to reduce the intensity and frequency of the symptoms that you’re experiencing.

If you experience extreme vision loss, loss of vision in just one eye, or have difficulty thinking, seek medical attention immediately. For more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to use at Performance Vision.