The term “ocular migraine” generally refers to a change in vision that occurs before or during a headache; but the term also causes confusion as it is often used to describe two different conditions, one which is serious and another condition which is not. Ocular migraines are also different than other migraines with many patients experiencing a wide range visual disturbances without the accompanying headache.
What Are Ocular Migraines?
Ocular migraines can occur in one or both eyes and include a number of migraine types that cause a variety of visual changes or disturbances, including:
- Temporary loss of vision
- Scotoma, or small blind spots
- Scintillations, or flashing lights
- Zigzag or wavy lines
Commonly referred to as migraine aura, these symptoms, while frightening, are rarely serious, vary in intensity, and tend to move laterally across the field of vision. Ocular migraines typically last for less than 30 minutes, with 20% of patients experiencing symptoms for an hour or more.
In general, while this condition may interfere with the ability to read or drive, it is temporary and is generally not considered serious or dangerous.
Retinal migraines are also often commonly referred to as ocular migraines. While symptoms of retinal migraines happen much less frequently than those associated with optical migraines with aura symptoms, they tend to be more intrusive and more intense. Symptoms of a retinal migraine may also include blinking lights and periodic short-term blindness, but unlike symptoms of migraine aura, the patient will experience repeated bouts and only in one eye, not both. Retinal migraines also are typically caused by other, more serious health conditions.
Causes and Treatment of Ocular Migraines
Although the exact cause is unknown, ocular migraines are thought to have the same root cause as traditional migraine headaches and stem from a form of inflammation occurring around the blood vessels and nerves in the brain.
The World Health Organization has found that most migraines have a genetic base, and an estimated 7 out of 10 people experiencing migraines have a family history of the condition. In addition, and like most migraines, bright lights, prolonged exposure to electronic screens, and other activities that stress the eyes are also believed to contribute to the incidence of ocular migraines.
Other triggers for ocular migraines can include:
- Altitude changes
- Low blood sugar
- Uncorrected refractive error
Symptoms associated with ocular migraines are usually short-term and nearly always harmless; as a result, the condition often does not require treatment. However, consulting with your doctor or optometrist is always recommended. Most often, your optometrist will recommend a comprehensive vision test to rule out other, more serious health conditions.
On top of regular exams, at-home vision monitoring solutions also exist. EyeQue pioneers at-home vision tests and provides two affordable and convenient solutions that can help eliminate any undiagnosed refractive error. The Personal Vision Tracker tests for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. The EyeQue Insight tests 20/20 vision in about a minute. Try one today!