Ocular Migraines: What They Are and How to Treat Them

chronic migraineThere are many different types of migraines, and each one is accompanied by its own unique symptoms. An ocular migraine is as you’ve probably guessed, a migraine that affects the eyes.

What are Ocular Migraines?

Migraine affect many different parts of the brain. Some people get a sudden onset of excruciating pain and others have more of a gradual onset. When it comes to ocular migraines, the sufferer may have no pain at all initially, but the symptoms often begin in the eyes. Ocular migraines, also known as retinal migraines, cause visual disturbances and in some cases, temporary vision loss. People who experience these migraines often complain of the following symptoms:

  • seeing flashing lights

  • having blind spots in the visual field

  • having temporary loss of vision

  • seeing odd patterns such as lines of zigzags

Once symptoms set in, they normally last for around 30 minutes; afterwards, the classic migraine symptoms occur. 

These include:

  • pain in one side of the head

  • nausea

  • sensitivity to light or sound

Although the disturbances may affect both eyes, most cases usually involves one. 

How Does it Start?

Medical experts aren’t really sure of what causes ocular migraines, but  they’ve found that they are triggered by spasms in blood vessels within the eye (retina) or abnormal activity in the optic nerves. 

People who have a genetic predisposition to ocular migraines are more likely to develop them. In fact, 70% of retinal migraine sufferers have family members who also had them. Most sufferers are under the age of 50, and according to All About Vision the following triggers may bring them on in people who are susceptible to them:

  • cigarette smoke

  • stimulants

  • perfumes

  • stress

  • flickering lights

  • lack of sleep

  • strong odors 

Diagnosing and Treating Ocular Migraines

Since the eyes are connected to many nerves, muscles and blood vessels, temporary vision loss alone is enough to diagnose an ocular migraine. Your doctor will ask you about other symptoms that may have accompanied the vision loss to make a better diagnosis. If necessary, he will also request a few tests. 

These tests may include:

  • Full eye exam – This eye exam will check the inner and outer parts of the eye, to make sure there aren’t any signs of nerve damage, retinal detachment, infection or eye injuries. Your general physician may refer you to an eye doctor for this examination. 

  • Fundoscope Examination – If you’re able to see a physician while you’re having an ocular migraine, he will use a fundoscope to check the blood flow in your eye. Decreased blood- flow to the eye is a sign of an ocular migraine. 

Since ocular migraines are generally short-lived, they don’t normally require treatment. However, the migraine pain that follows may be treated with aspirin, epilepsy medication, tricyclic antidepressants or beta-blockers. 

To avoid future attacks, an eye doctor or physician may run a few tests to see what your trigger may be. Once they’re identified, you will be advised to avoid them, or take medication to prevent another onset.  

If you’ve had ocular migraine symptoms, see your physician as soon as possible to rule out any other conditions. 

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