October Newsletter: What Are Ocular Migraines and How Can They Be Prevented?

Woman has a migraine.

Could Ocular Migraines Be Responsible for Temporary Vision Changes?

Ocular migraines, also called retinal migraines, cause temporary vision loss and changes in your vision. Although the symptoms don't last long, ocular migraines can be frightening, particularly if you've never experienced these visual symptoms before.

What Happens During an Ocular Migraine?

During an ocular migraine, you might notice a blind spot in your central vision, see flashing or twinkling lights, notice a change in your peripheral (side) vision, or experience temporary blindness. In most cases, ocular migraines only last an hour or less, although permanent vision loss can happen in rare cases. The vision changes occur in one eye and happen due to a temporary reduction in blood flow to the retina at the back of the eye.

The retina serves as the processing center for the eye and changes light rays into electrical signals. The brain uses the information contained in the signals to produce images. When blood flow in the retina is restricted, the brain may not receive complete information from the eyes. As a result, you may notice vision loss or disturbances during an ocular migraine. You may get a headache about an hour after the vision symptoms occur, although it's possible to experience an ocular migraine without a headache.

You're more likely to develop ocular migraines if you have a family history of migraine, are female, or are between the ages of 30 and 39, according to the American Optometric Association.

What Should I Do if I Experience Ocular Migraine Symptoms?

Sudden changes in vision can also occur if you have glaucoma or other serious eye diseases. If you haven't been diagnosed with ocular migraines and suddenly experience a loss of vision, call your optometrist immediately or go to the emergency room.

If you have been diagnosed with ocular migraines, the changes to your vision should improve soon. Your doctor may prescribe medications that prevent migraines, which can reduce the number of retinal migraines you experience.

Avoiding migraine triggers can also be helpful. In fact, the same things that cause classic migraines may also trigger retinal migraines. These include:

  • Foods and Drinks. Some people have more migraines after eating chocolate or drinking wine or caffeinated beverages, while others aren't affected by foods and drinks. If you notice that a particular food or beverage triggers your retinal migraines, avoiding it could reduce the number of migraines you get.
  • Stress. Exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and making time for fun can lower stress and anxiety and help keep your retinal migraines under control.
  • Bright Lights. Eighty percent of migraine patients have photophobia (light sensitivity), according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Any type of light can trigger migraines, including sunlight and light from digital screens. Overhead lights, particularly flickering fluorescent lights, may also cause migraines. The American Migraine Foundation suggests wearing sunglasses inside and outside if you're sensitive to light. Yellow, orange, or red tinted lenses can be helpful if blue light from screens is a problem, according to the Foundation.
  • Eyestrain. Eyestrain may also be a contributing factor in migraines. Taking frequent breaks when reading or viewing digital screens can help you avoid eyestrain.
  • Smoking. Smoking or the smell of smoke can trigger migraines and make them worse. Any product that contains nicotine, whether it's a cigarette, vape cartridge, or cigar, may cause migraines. If you've been thinking about quitting smoking, now is the perfect time to give up the habit.
  • Other Triggers. Other migraine triggers include high blood pressure, exercise, dehydration, and high blood pressure. If you're female, you may have noticed that you experience migraines more often during your period or shortly before it starts.

What's the Difference Between Retinal Migraines and Migraines with Auras?

Although both types of migraine cause vision disturbances, migraines with auras start in the brain and usually affect both eyes. In contrast, retinal migraines start in your eye and only affect one eye.

An aura is a set of symptoms you may experience an hour before a migraine starts. Migraines with aura symptoms can include blind spots, colorful stars or jagged lines, flashing lights, numbness, tingling, trouble speaking, or muscle weakness. Avoiding triggers and taking over-the-counter or prescription medication can also be helpful if you have migraine with aura.

Any change in your vision should be evaluated as soon as possible. If you've experienced vision loss or vision disturbances, even if the symptoms were only temporary, contact our office.

Sources:

American Optometric Association: Ocular Migraines

https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/ocular-migraine?sso=y

American Migraine Foundation: Photophobia (Light Sensitivity) and Migraine, 12/21/2017

https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/photophobia-migraine/

American Academy of Ophthalmology: Eye Net: Photophobia: Looking for Causes and Solutions, November/December 2005

https://www.aao.org/eyenet/article/photophobia-looking-causes-solutions

All About Vision: Ocular Migraines, 5/12/2023

https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/ocular-migraine.htm

StatPearls: Retinal Migraine Headache, 6/26/2023

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507725/

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