Understanding Ocular Migraines

by Feb 6, 2019

Have you ever experienced short-lived but alarming visual disturbances?  Perhaps you’ve noticed strange blind spots in your vision, shimmer lights or bursts of colors.  These visual experiences can be confusing and at times even scary, but are typically symptoms of a relatively common occurrence known as an ocular migraine.  Ocular migraines sometimes accompany a traditional migraine headache, but can also occur on their own. Read on to learn more about these symptoms and why they occur.

ocular migraine


Ocular Migraines vs. Migraine Headaches

Both ocular migraines and traditional migraine headaches are caused when the blood flow is momentarily disrupted.  In migraine headaches, this altered blood flow is occurring in the brain, whereas in ocular migraines, it’s the back of the eye that is receiving disrupted blood flow.  The symptoms of an ocular migraine, including visual distortions, may be noticed out of one or both eyes, and can last from a matter of seconds to over thirty minutes. It is not uncommon for an ocular migraine to quickly resolve with no head pain or associated migraine.  However, in some unfortunate cases, the visual disturbances of an ocular migraine can precede a traditional migraine. In those cases, symptoms such as a pounding headache, overwhelming nausea, and light sensitivity can arrive about 30 minutes following the visual disturbances of an ocular migraine.  If the ocular migraine is associated with an actual migraine headache, the visual disturbances are often referred to as a “migraine aura.” Many people who regularly suffer migraines have come to recognize migraine auras as a warning sign, and use them as an indication to take prophylactic steps in attempt to prevent a headache migraine.


Living with Ocular Migraines

The cause of ocular and traditional migraines is well understood – both are the result of altered blood flow.  However, there can be many different triggers resulting in altered blood flow. People who frequently experience ocular migraines or migraine headaches have usually identified what triggers their occurrences, and it varies from person to person.  Common triggers include certain foods or drinks, like gluten, processed sugar, meats, or alcohol. Medications may also be a culprit for triggering these events. Others seem to identify environmental causes for their migraines, such as fatigue, restlessness, or extreme stress.  An important part of living with ocular migraines and headache migraines is being able to identify the triggers for these events, and keeping them in mind for future avoidance.

Even if a trigger is identified, living with migraines can still be frustrating.  Frequent visual disturbances can become a bother, even when they aren’t accompanied by a headache.  And migraine headaches themselves can be debilitating and at times unavoidable. In cases where migraines are affecting quality of life, certain measures can be taken.  A primary care doctor or neurologist can evaluate the migraines and prescribe medications if necessary. They may also recommend lifestyle modifications in attempts to ward off any unidentified triggers.  Simple steps like staying hydrated, maintaining a healthy diet, and regularly exercising can sometimes play a role in reducing the frequency of ocular migraines and associated headaches.


If you have experienced ocular migraines, you know how frightening they can be.  The health of your eyes come first with our optometrists at Neal Eye Group!  Call us at (610) 828-9701 or schedule your appointment online for an eye exam with the Neal Eye Group.  We serve Norristown, King of Prussia, Philadelphia, and East Norriton.

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