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Ocular and Visual Migraines: Prevention and Treatment Options

An ocular migraine can be quite alarming since the symptoms often cause temporary vision loss. Even though ocular migraines are rare, the occurrence of a migraine can have a debilitating result. Whether you have a history of migraines or you are experiencing this condition for the first time, it is recommended that you talk to an experienced eye doctor to discuss treatment options.

What Are Ocular Migraines?

An ocular migraine is a medical term that refers to a range of migraine subtypes that cause visual disturbances. Other forms of migraines are characterized by severe headache and associated symptoms. But ocular migraines are unique because temporary vision problems can occur without pain or headache.

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Symptoms of Ocular Migraines

Not only do the symptoms of ocular migraines vary from one person to the next, but an individual can have differing symptoms for each migraine. The most common symptoms associated with ocular migraines include:

  • Temporary vision loss
  • Temporary blindness (usually in one eye)
  • Blindspot (usually in one eye, affecting central vision)
  • Headache

The term “migraine” is often associated with a severe headache. While a headache can be part of the experience of having an ocular migraine, there are many times when patients experience vision problems without the pain of a headache. 

How Visual Migraines Differ from Ocular Migraines

The terms “visual migraine” and “ocular migraine” are often used as synonyms, but the truth is that they are two distinct conditions. Another common term used for a migraine with visual disturbances is an “optical migraine.” 

Even though some of the symptoms are similar, there are a few unique symptoms that occur with a visual migraine (also commonly known as an aural migraine):

  • Wavy ring of light
  • Zig-zagging light
  • Flickering blind spot
  • Visual migraine aura
  • A blind spot that moves in the field of vision

With ocular migraines, it is common for the blind spot to start small. With time, the spot gets bigger and causes more disruption with your ability to see. 

In most cases, ocular migraine symptoms last for 30 minutes or less. Sometimes, the symptoms will remain for an hour before your vision returns in full. 

One notable difference between ocular migraines and visual migraines is how the eyes are affected. If you are experiencing an ocular migraine, then it will only affect one eye. On the other hand, both eyes are usually affected by visual migraines.

What Causes Them?

It’s believed that the cause of regular migraines and ocular migraines are similar. Researchers have found that changes occur in the blood flow in the eye when the migraine is happening. These changes might cause a reduction in blood flow or a blood vessel spasm, which affects the retina located in the back of the eye.

While these changes in blood flow have been identified through imaging studies, researchers are still unsure about the exact cause of the response. It appears that an outside trigger activates an area within the brain that releases inflammatory substances. This inflammatory response affects the nerves and blood vessels in the brain and head. 

Genetics can play a role in a person’s risk of migraines. Researchers have found that as many patients with ocular migraines have close family members with migraine headaches. 

Also, it is common for a “trigger” to impact each episode. These triggers vary from one person to the next. Track your migraine patterns to see if you can identify environmental factors that occurred before the migraine started. Common triggers include stress, glaring lights, flickering lights, lack of sleep, strong odors (cigarette smoke or strong perfume), or consuming specific ingredients (MSG, caffeine, chocolate, red wine, aged cheese, or artificial sweeteners).

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How Can They Be Prevented?

The most effective thing you can do to prevent frequent ocular migraines is to identify your triggers and avoid those things. Pay attention to how you are feeling and your activities before the migraine was triggered. Keep a journal of these triggers and episodes so you can review your history to identify patterns.

Improving overall health can be beneficial in preventing ocular migraines. For example, make sure that you are sleeping enough at night, making healthy dietary choices, and managing stress effectively. Since sleep, stress, and food can all be migraine triggers, these daily habits can reduce the likelihood of being triggered with a migraine.

Sometimes, migraine medication is recommended as a treatment option. For example, your doctor might write a prescription that can be used when the symptoms start to occur. It can be helpful to keep the medicine on hand so the migraine can be stopped in the earliest stages. 

How to Handle an Occular Migraine

If you know that specific triggers affect the development of your migraine episodes, then you should quickly avoid the trigger when exposure occurs. For example, move away from cigarette smoke if the symptoms begin. 

Because vision disturbances occur with ocular migraines, you should always be aware of your safety at the moment. If you are driving, then you should pull to the side of the road and keep the car in park until the symptoms have subsided completely. 

Many patients find that the most effective treatment in the moment is to rest and relax. When the symptoms begin, find a quiet place where you can lay down and close your eyes until the symptoms go away.

Should You Talk to an Eye Doctor?

When vision loss occurs, it is always best to consult with an eye doctor. Even though the symptoms of an ocular migraine are temporary, you should seek medical support to watch for signs of other eye conditions that could result in permanent vision loss. 

An immediate eye exam can be completed to look for signs that you might be dealing with a more serious condition. The symptoms of an ocular migraine can be similar to those of retinal detachment. If you are experiencing retinal detachment instead of an ocular migraine, immediate treatment is essential to minimize permanent vision loss.

At LasikPlus, our goal is to help you maintain optimal vision. If you are interested in talking with a local LASIK surgeon, then we are here to help. Schedule an appointment with a provider in your area, or call if you have questions about the available services: 1.866.755.2026.