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What Are Ocular Migraines?

Migraines are severe headaches that cause throbbing pain on one side of the head and can lead to other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. 

According to a medical review published by The Journal of Head and Face Pain – migraines and severe headaches affect approximately 1 in 6 American adults. 

Migraines can manifest in different ways for different people. One of the less known but fairly common types of migraines is known as ocular migraines.

What is an Ocular Migraine?

Ocular migraines are migraines that lead to visual symptoms or vision disturbances. The term is often used interchangeably to refer to two subtypes of migraines: migraines with auras and retinal migraines.

Migraines with Auras

Migraine auras are a part of classic migraines that typically involve sensory disturbances, including visual impairment. This can manifest as flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or blind spots.

The visual disturbances last less than one hour and typically occur before or during the migraine headache. It is estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of people who experience migraines also have auras – and up to 99 percent of those with auras will experience visual disturbances. In some cases, migraine auras can occur without a headache (known as acephalgic/silent migraines).

Retinal Migraines

Retinal migraines, also known as ophthalmic migraines, are visual disturbances during a migraine attack that affects one eye. This can manifest as a temporary loss of vision or as subtle changes in your vision, such as flickering lights, distorted vision, and short bursts of temporary blindness.

Retinal migraines are relatively rare and only affect one eye at a time. The symptoms may occur before, during, or after a migraine attack and tend to be more intrusive than migraine auras. In rare cases, retinal migraines can cause irreversible vision loss.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of ocular migraines can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Temporary vision loss or impairment in one eye
  • Flashing lights
  • Zig-zag lines or patterns
  • Blind spots
  • Shimmering spots
  • Distortion in your vision
  • Extreme sensitivity to light

Causes and Triggers

The exact cause of ocular migraines is unknown, but several postulations exist. One theory suggests that ocular migraines are caused by constriction of blood vessels leading to limited blood flow to the retina or optic nerve – hence the symptoms. Another theory suggests that optical migraines are caused by electrical impulses emanating from the brain.

Whichever the cause, various factors are known to trigger the onset of ocular migraine as outlined below:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Bright or flickering lights
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain foods and drinks

Managing Symptoms of Ocular Migraines

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing ocular migraines, as the best course of treatment will depend on the individual and the severity of their symptoms. The following practices may help to ease symptoms of ocular migraines:

  • Resting in a quiet and dark room
  • Using over-the-counter pain medication
  • Wearing sunglasses or avoiding bright lights
  • Avoiding sudden movements of intense activities

While ocular migraines are not usually life-threatening, in some cases, they can be a sign of something more serious, such as retinal detachment. If you experience the above symptoms regularly, it’s crucial to seek help from a doctor or healthcare provider for a conclusive diagnosis and treatment.

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