What are ocular migraines?

Man with ocular migraine

Have you ever wondered what an ocular migraine looks like and what can trigger them? If so, keep reading to learn more about what ocular migraines are and how to manage them.


Understanding Ocular Migraines

An ocular migraine refers to a moderate to severe headache that involves changes to your vision. Before we dive deeper into the signs and symptoms of ocular migraines and how to deal with them, it is important to distinguish between them and migraine auras.

A migraine aura is more common and less serious. They are visual sensations like flashing lights, blind spots, zig-zag patterns, or even shimmering spots that do not last very long. Similarly, they affect both of your eyes at the same time.

An aura may cause other symptoms like the numbness that accompanies a headache, or you can even experience them without any pain.

Ocular migraines, on the other hand, are synonymous with retinal migraines. These are much more severe and can signal the existence of a more serious problem.

These headaches can cause blindness or diminished vision in one of your eyes, not both. Typically, the vision loss clears up within an hour and happens before or with the migraine headache. It is very rare for this to happen, and most times, the loss of vision is caused by something other than the headache itself.

Signs and Symptoms

So, how do you know that you're experiencing an ocular migraine?

The first thing to determine is if the vision change is happening in one eye or both. If you see spots or have blurred vision in both of your eyes, you are likely experiencing a migraine aura. When vision problems occur in just one eye, though, it could be an ocular migraine.

Ocular migraines can last anywhere from one hour to 72 hours, depending on the severity, and they tend to affect only one side of your head. Most are moderate to very painful, and the individual will feel throbbing or pulsating on that side of their head.

The symptoms can worsen if you move around, and they may cause you to be sensitive to lights and sounds. Other symptoms can include nausea and vomiting.

Since ocular migraines can indicate a more serious condition, it is necessary to consult your doctor if you're experiencing these symptoms.

What to Do for Ocular Migraines

Although the experts are still not sure what the direct causes of ocular migraines are, there are certain things you can do to manage the symptoms and lower your risk of experiencing them.

Some doctors believe spasms in the blood vessels found in your retina or changes across the nerve cells found in the lining of your eye cause ocular migraines. There is also a strong genetic link to migraines, and these individuals may have an increased risk of losing vision permanently in one eye.

Treating migraines can also be difficult since experts disagree on which medications work best. The most helpful advice is to avoid the following triggers that can cause ocular migraines:

  •  Stress
  • Cigarettes and Alcohol
  • Excessive Heat
  • High Altitudes
  • Bending Over Too Quickly

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also important to preventing ocular migraines. High blood pressure, dehydration, and low blood sugar are also known triggers to these severe headaches.

Likewise, your hormone levels play an important role in regulating migraines. Higher levels of estrogen caused by hormonal birth control pills or other fluctuations due to pregnancy, menopause, or irregular menstrual cycle can also cause ocular migraines.  

Again, you should always consult with your doctor if you're experiencing these symptoms for an extended period.