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Ocular Migraine

An Ocular Migraine is a painless temporary visual disturbance that can affect one or both eyes. They can be frightening but are usually harmless and typically go away within 20 to 30 minutes.  Ocular migraines are also called by other names, including ophthalmic migraines, retinal migraines, and eye migraines.

Some people who have migraine headaches, which is a very specific type of a headache (it is not just a very bad headache) may have a visual disturbance which is termed: "a migraine with aura".  A migraine headache without a visual disturbance preceding it is called a "migraine without aura" (previously called a common migraine).  Migraine auras usually are visual in nature, but they can include disturbances of hearing, speech or smell; progressive numbness or tingling in the face or arms or legs; or generalized weakness.

Some people describe that they see flashes of light or lightning bolts or as though they are looking through a cracked window. The visual distortion spreads across the field of vision and usually disappears within 30 minutes.

Other symptoms that people with ocular migraines have included seeing a small blind spot that seems to get bigger in your central vision with bright, flashing or flickering lights or wavy or zig-zag lines surrounding the blind spot. The blind spot may get bigger and move across your field of vision.  It may last for minutes or up to a half hour.

Ocular migraines are believed to have the same causes as migraine headaches.  It is common for family members to have migraines or ocular migraines.  The exact cause is not clear, but some people have certain triggers that bring on migraines, such as certain foods, such as aged cheeses, caffeinated drinks, red wine, smoked meats, and chocolate. Food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners also can trigger migraines in some individuals.  Other potential migraine triggers include cigarette smoke, perfumes and other strong odors, glaring or flickering lights, lack of sleep and emotional stress.

Migraines commonly affect adults in their 30s and 40s, but often start at puberty and also can affect children. Women are up to three times more likely than men to have migraines.

Ocular migraines can be upsetting but fortunately, they are harmless and typically go away within on their own within a half hour and require no treatment.  It’s probably smart for you not to drive or do other things that require good vision when it occurs, and to stop and relax until your vision returns to normal.

If they occur more frequently, you may want to consider taking medication to prevent future attacks. Keep a journal of your diet and activities just prior to your episodes of an ocular migraine or a migraine with aura to see if you can identify possible migraine triggers that you can avoid in the future.

If your ocular migraines or migraine headaches appear to be stress-related, you might be able to reduce the frequency of your migraine attacks without medicine by simply eating healthful meals on a regular basis, avoiding common migraine triggers, getting plenty of sleep and trying stress-busters such as yoga and massage.