When we hear the word “migraine”, we often think of a painful and debilitating headache that is far worse than everyday headaches. The term “ocular migraine” can cause a little confusion but generally means a migraine that is accompanied by changes or distortions to vision. The term is often used synonymously in reference to two different conditions: a migraine with aura and a retinal migraine.

These migraine subtypes are characterized by several different visual disturbances that may include:

  • Decrease in Vision
  • Starburst Effects
  • Blind Spots
  • Visual Lines
  • Tunnel Vision

Some patients may experience more traditional symptoms of a migraine such as:

  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

Ocular migraines may occur with or without head pain.

Types of Ocular Migraines

Migraine with Aura

Symptoms involve flashes of light, visual lines, blind spots and other possible visual disturbances. Migraine aura may also affect other senses causing numbness in the face or hands, speech interference, or disrupted taste or smell. Migraine aura is typically short-lived and may occur with or without a headache.

When aura symptoms appear in combination with a headache, they usually do so between the symptoms that warn of a migraine attack and when the actual head pain begins. A migraine with aura occurs in about 30 percent of migraine sufferers.

Retinal Migraine

A migraine with visual symptoms that occur in only one eye before or during the headache phase of a migraine. Symptoms are similar but likely to be more interruptive than aura symptoms, including decreased vision, flashing or twinkling light, and temporary blindness.

It may be difficult to differentiate between Retinal migraines and migraines with aura, making it important to consult your physician if you think you may be experiencing a retinal migraine.

What Causes Migraines with Visual Disturbances

While still being studied, ocular migraines are believed to occur when blood vessels in our eyes become constricted or narrowed, reducing blood flow. Once a migraine is over, the narrowed blood vessels relax allowing normal blood flow and restoration of visual disturbances. While some experts believe ocular migraines may result from changes in the nerve cells that spread across the retina.

Ocular migraines aren’t usually a sign of a serious problem and permanent damage is rare.

Triggers of ocular migraines may include:

  • Strenuous Exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Caffeine Withdrawal
  • Low Blood Sugar
  • Tobacco Use
  • High Altitudes

Ocular migraines are difficult to diagnose due to their brief nature but may be determined through an investigation of symptoms, an eye examination, and a review of personal and family medical history.

Take the First Step Toward Better Vision

Whenever you experience uncommon vision impairment, you should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with a skilled ophthalmologist to rule out more severe conditions. While symptoms of ocular migraines may be quite distressing, they are usually short-lived experiences. Call or contact online the highly trained staff at NeoVision Eye Center to learn more about your symptoms, how to identify triggers, and ways to best avoid their occurrence.