Ocular Migraine: It’s Not All In Your Head

If you suffer from migraines, you are all too familiar with the extreme headache, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, more than 12 percent of the United States population is afflicted with migraines. As common as these debilitating headaches are, one specific type of migraine affects only one in every 200 individuals who suffer from migraines, and its symptoms can be frightening. Find out if you experience the distinguishing symptoms of this rare type so that your optometrist or ophthalmologist can rule out other problems to confirm a diagnosis and discuss how you can cope when an attack strikes.

Migraine Symptom Review

Approximately 20 percent of migraine sufferers experience the classic migraine with aura. The aura most commonly precedes, and can also accompany, the headache and nausea. Migraine auras can feel like numbness or a stinging sensation. Weakness, diminished language and motors skills and dizziness can also occur. Migraine auras also present as visual disturbances, including the following:

  • Flashing lights
  • Twinkling spots, a phenomenon known as scintillations
  • Blind spots in the field of vision, a phenomenon known as scotoma
  • Wavy zigzag patterns, most commonly in black and white
  • Blurred vision

These visual disturbances are typically present in both eyes.

Distinguishing Ocular Migraines

In the case of an ocular migraine, the aforementioned visual disturbances, as well as a temporary and frightening loss of vision, occur. They are generally short in duration, subsiding within 30 to 60 minutes, and they usually precede the headache and nausea. The most distinguishing trait about the visual disturbances that occur with an ocular migraine is that they are usually monocular, meaning that they occur in only one eye. Thus, they are sometimes called monocular migraines. Other names for this condition include the following:

  • Retinal migraines
  • Ophthalmological migraines

Repeated episodes of these one-sided visual disturbances will prompt your optometrist or ophthalmologist to confirm a diagnosis.

Diagnosing Ocular Migraines

The exact cause of ocular migraines has yet to be confirmed, but it is believed that they may result from spasms that occur in the blood vessels within the retina of the affected eye. The retina is the membrane at the back of the eye. Its function is to receive light and transmit images along the optical nerve to the brain. There is no specific test available to diagnose ocular migraines. Your doctor will arrive at a diagnosis by discussing all of your symptoms, reviewing your medical history and by ruling out other potential causes of temporary vision loss.

Treating Ocular Migraines

Once your ophthalmologist has determined that your symptoms are due to ocular migraine, treatment is usually similar to that of other types of migraine. Prescription medication may be prescribed, and you will likely find some comfort by lying down in a darkened room until the entire migraine episode abates. You should try to take notice of potential triggers, such as consuming certain foods or being involved in stressful situations, when future episodes strike so that you can ultimately limit or avoid them. When the visual symptoms of an ocular migraine occur, it is imperative that you do not drive until the symptoms have completely resolved.

Those who suffer from ocular migraines may have an elevated risk of sustaining a permanent loss of vision in one eye. If you experience any of the aforementioned visual disturbances, be sure to address them to your eye doctor as soon as possible.