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Ocular Migraines: What You Should Know

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What Are Migraines?

A migraine varies in its clinical appearance and falls into different categories.  They exhibit distinct symptoms that include half-sided headaches, transient loss of vision, unusual hunger, intestinal disturbance, and high sensitivity to sound and light.

Typically, patients experience different episodes of a migraine. However, it is clinically possible that they show a combination of these symptoms.

What are Ocular Migraines?

An ocular migraine is a visual field defect that appears in one or both eyes.

Visual disturbance is one of the major symptoms of this type of a migraine and the patient may see shimmering lights, stars, flashing, and zigzag lines. A number of patients have also complained about seeing psychedelic images. The temporary vision impairment may affect the visual field by causing blind spots on it.

What are the Symptoms of Ocular Migraines?

An ocular migraine can have frightening effects but is typically harmless. Most of the visual symptoms that it causes self-resolve or disappear within 20 to 40 minutes without any medication.  Typically, a person suffers from an ocular migraine due to migraine activity that occurs in brain’s visual cortex.

However, a migraine may be followed by a one-sided headache or throbbing pain that has the ability to interfere with your performance of certain tasks like driving, writing or reading. This state particularly refers to ‘aura’, the symptoms of which are categorically different than a typical migraine.

Here is what you need to know to distinguish an aura and ocular migraine.

Aura – A Type of Ocular Migraine

A severe condition of an ocular migraine, you may experience aura for approximately 15 to 40 minutes. Previously, ophthalmologists considered aura a classic migraine (an Ophthalmic migraine) as it causes a headache and visual disturbances that may vary from moderate to a debilitating level.

Moreover, aura exhibits following symptoms:

  • Disrupted senses; smell, taste or touch
  • Seeing shimmering spots, blind spots or zig-zag lines
  • Mental fogginess and fuzziness
  • The sense of tingling and numbness in face and hands

Not all patients with ocular migraines experience auras and this eye-related migraine does not necessarily appear with a headache.

What Causes Ocular Migraines?

The proximate causes of an ocular migraine remain undiscovered.  According to some recent research, family history of an ocular migraine can be a common risk factor. Doctors theorize various causes of this chronic disorder, listed below:

1.     Genetics

A number of studies have surfaced a genetic link to an ocular migraine. A person’s probability of getting frequent migraines increases if they have a family history of ocular migraines.

2.     Hormone Levels

Disruption in hormones, particularly estrogen levels, in the brain is another cause of an ocular migraine.   Hormones fluctuate due to a plethora of reasons such as menstrual cycle, oral contraceptives, menopause, or pregnancy.

3.     Triggers

A research has identified a combination of triggers that cause an ocular migraine in individuals. These triggers may vary from person to person, but include the following:

  • Loud sound
  • Climatic changes
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Powerful odors
  • Food containing cheese, tyramine, artificial sweeteners, and nitrates

Bottom Line

In conclusion, ocular migraines are harmless to your overall health but it requires treatment if you experience an aura or any other painful condition along with it. It is essential to consult your ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination if you experience an unusual vision-threatening symptom. Only your doctor can guide you properly to prevent future attacks.

Written by Total Focus

At Total Focus Optometry, we’ve spent the last 70 years building meaningful relationships with our patients and their families. From routine eye exams to contact lens fittings we offer our patients a variety of services to meet their eye care needs.

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