Ocular Migraine

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What is Ocular Migraine?

Because retinal migraine is used interchangeably with ocular migraine, understanding its subtypes can be confusing. Fortunately, all you need to remember is that retinal migraine and migraine with aura are two possible sets of symptoms under the umbrella of ocular migraine, a condition that does not necessarily cause painful migraines but always comes with certain visual disturbances.

Nevertheless, ocular migraine is usually associated with numerous symptoms that affect how you perceive the world through your eyes. Such sensory anomalies as blurry vision, flashes, floating lines, and blind spots can be related to this condition. And if they are recurring occurrences, all the more reason to believe that what you are experiencing is either a retinal migraine or a migraine with aura.

Regarding ocular migraine, symptoms may vary significantly from person to person. An impressive variety of sensory disruptions may occur, meaning people affected experience it differently. Certain anomalies may also be challenging to explain and not easily fall into the description of the listed symptoms. Understanding a person's symptoms in better depth with a health professional's guidance is vital in diagnosing this condition.

Migraine with Aura

Let's discuss the more common subtype of ocular migraine – migraine with aura. In this condition, visual disturbances usually last for a short period and don't affect vision in an impairing way. They are considered slight issues and rarely affect other senses. However, some people can experience symptoms related to speech, the central nervous system, and motor skills. See the following paragraph to learn sensory symptoms and other issues that occur in migraine aura.

The term ‘migraine' is usually associated with a headacheTrusted Source. However, it is not guaranteed to occur in migraine aura. When a headache's pain accompanies it, symptoms are often short. It is estimated that migraine with aura last longer than 1 hour in about 20% of people affected by it.

Symptoms of Migraine with Aura

In migraine with aura, sensory disturbances are perceived in both eyes. This is because the wave of activity in the brain, which causes aura, covers a large portion of the brain that is responsible for processing visual data. It usually lasts about five minutes, but in some instances, it can continue for up to one hour.

If the wave of brain activity affects areas responsible for motor skills, language, and senses other than vision, additional symptoms may occur. These are the sensory disruptions you may experience in migraine with aura:

Aura's visual symptoms appear suddenly in both eyesTrusted Source and move across your field of vision. According to health professionals, at least one happens in migraine with aura. You may see just one but also several at the same time. Some visual anomalies can have unusual shapes and colors that are difficult to describe.

Other symptoms that can occur include:

Symptoms affecting speaking occur once in ten migraines, while the rest of the other sensory issues occur once in three aura migraine attacks. Most people admit to experiencing light sensitivity and pressure behind the eyes during their migraines, often before visual disruptions start.

Migraine with aura can be scary initially, but rest assured that it won't endanger your life. Symptoms go away on their own and do not threaten the nervous system. They can make you feel uncomfortable, but they are not considered severe.

Ocular Migraine: What Is, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Retinal Migraine

Retinal migraine is a rare condition that affects only one eyeTrusted Source. It involves visual symptoms accompanied by a headache phase. It is considered a more severe migraine than a migraine with aura. Its symptoms are more intrusive and can get very distracting. It is characterized by frequent bursts of short-term visual disturbances, including blind spots and blindness, which may occur before or during a painful headache.

To differentiate retinal migraine from ocular migraine, it is sometimes referred to as optical or eye migraine. According to some information, it affects one in every 200 patients with migraines. However, there is insufficient data to evaluate how rare this condition is.

Retinal migraine can be challenging to distinguish from other conditions affecting vision. A doctor's consultation is necessary to diagnose this phenomenon and rule out other possibilities properly. In this condition, it is vital to act quickly because irreversible vision loss is one of its complications.

Like migraine with aura, retinal migraine does not necessarily cause a headache. You can experience visual symptoms without pain or pressure behind the eyes.

Symptoms of Retinal Migraine

Retinal migraine affects only one eye and causes the following issues with vision:

Retinal migraine can also lead to some symptoms that are unrelated to vision:

As you can see, there is quite an overlap between the symptoms of retinal migraine and migraine with aura. Ruling out other types of migraines and vision-affecting conditions by a doctor is the only way to diagnose retinal migraines. If the above symptoms apply to you, schedule an appointment with a trusted healthcare provider to describe your case. It is important not to postpone the consultation, as it may lead to irreversible changes in your vision if left untreated.

Ocular Migraine: What Is, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Causes of Ocular Migraines

According to the researchers, triggers for retinal migraines and migraines with aura are the same. It is unknown what causes them in the first place, but some of the triggers have been identified. The most common triggers are as follows:

According to one theory, the above triggers initiate a migraine because of issues related to blood vessels or blood flow supporting the retinaTrusted Source. It is hypothesized that visual symptoms subside when retina blood vessels relax.

Researchers also point to genetics as one of the possible causes. Approximately 50% of people experiencing ocular migraines have family members with similar sensory disturbances.

How To Diagnose Ocular Migraine?

If a person is experiencing ocular migraine during a doctor visit, a diagnosis is straightforward. A healthcare provider can then use an ophthalmoscope to check blood flow in a person's eye. During a migraine attack, it should be decreased, which confirms ocular migraine. But because migraine attacks are rarely longer than 5 minutes, more effort is required to diagnose this condition correctly. Family history and description of the patient's symptoms are necessary to rule out health problems that may mimic retinal migraine or migraine with aura. If you visit a general practitioner, they may recommend seeing an ophthalmologist to determine if you are affected by a severe eye condition.

How to Treat Ocular Migraine?

Treatment for ocular migraines applies to people who experience them frequently. In most cases, migraines that are not recurring are resolved thanks to medication such as anti-nausea medications, but lifestyle changes are the most effective way to get rid of sudden migraine attacks.

As for recurring migraine attacks, the treatment's main aim is to reduce the number of times they trigger. It can be achieved by avoiding triggers that initiate migraine in a person, which is not the same for everybody. In this case, identifying which ones cause sensory disruptions is essential to decrease their number. Keeping a journal or notes with specific triggers can help with this task. Because some include specific exercises, food, and drinks, lifestyle changes may be necessary.

For instance, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol and caffeineTrusted Source may reduce the number of migraine attacks. Spending less time staring at a screen and avoiding heat helps prevent attacks. Cooperate with the doctor to find which lifestyle changes would benefit you the most so you can combat ocular migraines more effectively.

Which Medication Should You Take?

If lifestyle changes do not help reduce migraine attacks, particular drugs may be necessary to improve the patient's condition. The below medicines are what doctors usually prescribe in that scenario:

After the attack started, medicines were not very helpful. That is because migraine episodes are usually short-lived, so there is not enough time for the medicine to kick in. As such, their role in combating ocular migraine is preventive – they ease the pain if it accompanies the visual symptoms and reduces the times they occur in the future.

Closing Comments

Ocular migraine rarely causes severe symptoms but can be problematic if it occurs frequently. Retinal migraine is a more serious subtype than a typical ocular migraine attack. In addition to headache and visual disturbances, it can cause temporary vision loss that, if left untreated, leads to irreversible changes in vision. You should see a healthcare provider if you experience sensory problems that decrease your vision.

Available treatment options include medications, lifestyle changes, and dietary supplements. Their role in combating ocular migraines is to reduce their intensity and frequency to a minimum. With a proper plan and avoiding specific triggers, it is possible to stop them from happening.


July 7, 2023
8 minutes read

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