Ocular Migraine Symptoms and Causes

Woman suffering from ocular migraine

What Are Ocular Migraines?

If you've ever experienced your own private light show, complete with flashing lights and colorful zigzags, you may have had an ocular migraine. Although these symptoms seem alarming, they usually go away quickly without damaging your vision.

Common Ocular Migraine Symptoms

Whether you call them ocular migraines, ophthalmic migraines, or migraine with aura, the symptoms are the same. Before the visual symptoms, or auras, start, you may feel a little lightheaded or dizzy. Soon you'll experience some strange changes to your vision, which may include:

  • Flashing Lights in Colorful Patterns
  • A Blind Spot That Affects Part of Your Vision
  • Light and Sound Sensitivity
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Numbness and Tingling
  • Coordination Problems or Weakness
  • Trouble Speaking Clearly

These symptoms can last about 30 to 60 minutes and usually affect both eyes. Even if you close your eyes, you'll notice that you'll still see the patterns and lights. It's difficult to read when you experience these visual disturbances, and it's not a good idea to drive until your vision returns to normal.

As the visual symptoms gradually fade, head pain may start. The headaches that accompany ocular migraines can be mild to severe and may last hours to days. It's also possible to experience the visual disturbances of an ocular migraine, yet never get a headache.

Auras with migraines are very common. In fact, 25 to 30 percent of people who get migraines experience auras, according to the American Migraine Association.

Ocular Migraine Causes

Just like with classic migraines, it's not always possible to determine why you have an ocular migraine. Many of the things that trigger classic migraines can also be responsible for ocular migraines, such as:

  • Waiting Too Long to Eat
  • Not Getting Enough Sleep
  • Sleeping Too Much
  • Working on Your Laptop or Using Other Digital Screens for Long Periods
  • Hormonal Changes Related to the Menstrual Cycle in Women
  • Dehydration
  • Spending Hours Under Bright Lights
  • Drinking Alcohol or Too Much Caffeine
  • Exposure to Strong Scents and Odors
  • Stress and Anxiety
  • Eating Certain Foods, Such as Chocolate, Preserved Foods, Aged Cheeses, or Foods That Contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

You may be more likely to get these types of migraines if other people in your family also have them.

Treating Ocular Migraines

If you only get ocular migraines occasionally, you may not need to do anything special to treat them. Avoiding stress and known migraine triggers may help you avoid future episodes.

If you get ocular or other migraines frequently, you may benefit from medications that prevent migraines and reduce the number of migraine days you have in a month. In some cases, Botox injections can also be used to reduce migraines.

When It's a Good Idea to See Your Ophthalmologist

It's important to report any change in your vision to your ophthalmologist. If you've never had visual auras before and suddenly begin experiencing them, let your doctor know. He or she can perform a thorough examination and determine if your symptoms are most likely caused by ocular migraines.

Ocular migraines can sometimes be confused with a potentially serious type of migraine called retinal migraine. Retinal migraines only affect one eye and can cause temporary blindness, blurred or dim vision, and sparkling lights. You may get a headache before, during, or after the visual changes.

These migraines occur when the blood vessels in your eye suddenly narrow. Although retinal migraines don't usually damage your vision, they can be responsible for permanent vision loss in some cases.

Medications that prevent migraines or relax your blood vessels might be recommended if you have retinal migraines often.

Have you had any of these ocular or retinal migraine symptoms? A visit to the ophthalmologist can help put your mind at ease. Contact our office to schedule your appointment.


American Migraine Association: Understanding Ocular Migraine, 10/19/17

Medical News Today: Ocular Migraine: Everything You Need to Know

Stanford Medicine: Stanford Headache Specialist Demystifies Migraine Auras, 7/11/17

Brain & Life: Should I Be Concerned About Ocular Migraines, 6/14

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