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Ocular migraines are fairly common and most of the time painless compared to a normal migraine that causes a severe headache. With eye migraines one might experience vision problems and may or may not be in conjunction with the severe headache.

Ocular migraines are fairly common

When visual disturbances occur, this is considered an ophthalmic migraine but is often called “ocular”.  Doctors believe the visual disturbance associated with a migraine is the change of the flow of blood in the brain around the area that controls vision.

The onset of a migraine is generally a reaction from the body when there is a trigger to cause a reaction such as eating certain foods and the chemicals in the foods, changes in hormones, stress, and lack of sleep.  When a migraine is triggered the flow of blood changes in the brain and when that change happens at the visual cortex this causes a drastic change in vision.  This blood flow change may not always cause the severe pain of a typical migraine but rather only affect the vision. 

Although the symptoms can be quite disturbing ocular migraines are very common and are said to be non-threatening and don’t cause any type of permanent damage.  The symptoms usually only last a short while and then go away without any noticeable side effects.    

Symptoms of Ocular Migraine

Symptoms vary with the onset of ocular migraines.  Generally there is a blind spot that begins small and enlarges in the center of your vision and is often accompanied by flickering bright lights or a zig-zag line inside that blind spot.  The migraine may pass quickly or could last up to thirty minutes.  Because they are painless and do not cause any serious vision or brain problems they seldom need any type of treatment.  It is always recommended that if you are experiencing this condition you should certainly talk to your eye doctor about it so he/she can examine your eyes to be sure there isn’t any eye disease present.   Most people describe the symptoms as if they were looking through a window that had a jagged hole in the middle. 
People who tend to get ocular migraines more are:

  • Individuals under age 40
  • Women
  • Individuals who have a family history of migraines
  • Individuals who have been diagnosed with sickle cell disease, depression, lupus, epilepsy, and hardening of the arteries.

Treatments for Ocular Migraines

There are very few treatments for ocular migraines because they are so poorly understood.  The symptoms are quite mild and painless and generally only last a short while.  Because the symptoms aren’t related to eye disease there is little your eye doctor can do to treat the symptoms.  However if the occurrence of ocular migraines seems to be happening frequently you should consult your physician about your concerns and he/she will prescribe a medication to lessen the frequency of the migraines.  

The best treatment of an ocular migraine is to stay still until the symptoms pass.  The vision disturbance is quite real and can cause almost total temporary blindness.  If you are driving or using heavy equipment it is imperative that you pull over and stop what you were doing.  Once the migraine has passed you should be fine to continue your normal routine.  In some cases it has been noted that some people have a lingering visual affect.  In these cases you should consult your doctor and eye doctor to be examined. 

Although the onset of symptoms can be quite frightening ocular migraines are not a serious condition and often pass within minutes.  The best thing you can do is make note of what you were doing prior to the onset of the migraine.  It could have been triggered by a food or beverage or from stress and tension.  Once you figure out what the trigger is you can prevent further occurrences by eliminating that trigger from your routine. 

If you are having regular onsets of ocular migraines you should certainly see your doctor and have a complete physical exam done.  Ocular migraines rarely if ever cause any type of permanent damage. However, if they are coming on frequently that could be a warning sign of something more serious.   

It is also important to note if there are lingering after effects from an ocular migraine.  If the symptoms last longer than an hour and your vision continues to be disturbed you should contact your doctor and schedule an exam.  Ocular migraines rarely cause any lingering affects once they have passed so if you do experience something abnormal once the event has passed this could be an indication of something more serious.

Personal Experience with Ocular Migraines

I have had episodes of ocular migraines for many years.  The events usually come on after I have had too little sleep and am experiencing more stress than I’m used to.  The ocular migraines I experience generally last no more than twenty minutes and have never left any lingering effects.  My father also suffers from ocular migraines and he has figured out that his are triggered by lack of proper sleep as well. 

The ocular migraines that I experience cause me to have very distorted vision with a large blind spot in the center of my line of vision.  The only thing I can do is sit back and relax until the migraine passes.  I’ve been experiencing ocular migraines for most of my adult life and have definitely learned what seems to trigger them.  Luckily I’ve always been somewhere I can sit down and relax when the migraines hit. 

Unlike a normal migraine that leads to severe headache pain, ocular migraines don’t have any warning signals.  They usually just come on in a matter of minutes after the first symptom is recognized.  Normal migraines with headache tend to have warning signs that help you to head off the worst of the pain.  With ocular migraines once the first symptom is recognized the full ocular migraine event is just minutes away.  There is little you can do to stop it at that point except sit back and wait for it to go away.

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