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Ocular migraine is a term used to cover several migraine subtypes that cause visual disturbances. They can develop with or without the accompanying pain of a classic migraine attack.

During an ocular migraine flare, you may see flashing or shimmering lights, zigzagging lines, or stars. It may also cause blind spots in your field of vision.

An ocular migraine flare can interfere with your ability to perform tasks like reading, writing, or driving. Symptoms are temporary, and an ocular migraine is typically not considered a serious condition.

In this article, we discuss what causes ocular migraine and ways to cope with it.

The exact causes of ocular migraine are unknown. However, one theory is that a narrowing of arteries causes a temporary lack of blood flow to the eye and induces symptoms.

Genetics

There is a genetic link to migraine. In fact, genetics may account for up to 60 percent of a person’s chance of having migraine.

Research suggests that a family history of migraine or ocular migraine increases your chances of having them. However, studies have not assessed a clear pattern of inheritance for ocular migraine.

Hormone levels

There may also be a link between estrogen levels and migraine. However, the exact nature of this relationship isn’t clear.

Studies have suggested that a drop in estrogen concentration is the most likely hormonal cause of migraine.

Estrogen is a hormone that controls chemicals in the brain associated with pain. In women, hormones fluctuate due to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies can also affect estrogen levels.

These fluctuations may play a role in migraine symptoms developing.

Triggers

Many people are able to identify individual migraine triggers or trigger combinations. Knowing these can be particularly helpful in migraine prevention.

Triggers vary from person to person and may include:

You can try to identify your migraine triggers by keeping a headache diary. The diary should include notes on diet, exercise, sleep habits, and menstruation.

The term ocular migraine covers multiple types of migraine. These include migraine with aura, retinal migraine, and ophthalmic migraine, among others.

Aura typically involves visual impairments such as small blind spots or flashes.

Other aura symptoms can include:

  • visual changes, such as seeing blind spots, shimmering spots, flashing lights, or zigzag lines
  • numbness or tingling in the hands or face
  • weakness
  • speech changes

Some people experience an aura before migraine sets in and symptoms can last for up to an hour.

However, not all people who experience migraine symptoms will experience auras in a typical way.

For example, ophthalmic migraine comes with visual disturbances, but without headache pain. Meanwhile, retinal migraine only occurs in a single eye.

Some people use the terms migraine and headache interchangeably, but this is incorrect. There are notable differences between headaches and migraine attacks.

For example, the pain from a tension headache, the most common form of headache, will be mild to moderate. Tension headaches tend to be distracting but not debilitating.

Cluster headaches, which can occur in cycles, can be more painful and can result in visual disturbances, similar to migraine. However, this will typically still not be as severe, persistent, or debilitating as migraine symptoms.

Learn more about the difference between migraine and headaches here.

Sometimes, headaches with aura are a symptom of an underlying condition. These can include:

Migraine can be debilitating and impact your quality of life. If you’re experiencing blind spots or vision disturbances, for example, you will want to wait until they pass before driving.

Ocular migraine will typically go away with time. You should rest and avoid triggers such as bright lights until the vision disturbances are gone.

There are both over-the-counter treatments and prescription medications that you can use to treat recurring migraine flares. Over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or Excedrin Migraine may also help reduce the symptoms.

Other medications that may help you manage ocular migraine include:

Some of these prescription medications will be taken on a regular basis instead of an as-needed basis when you get migraine symptom flares.

When experiencing migraine, you may find some of the following at-home coping tips helpful:

  • lying down or sit in a dark, quiet room
  • massaging your scalp with a lot of pressure
  • putting pressure on your temples
  • putting a damp towel over your forehead

Shop for Excedrin Migraine online.

While ocular migraine may not need treatment, you should consult your doctor if you have them frequently. You should also call your doctor if they’re increasing in frequency.

Your doctor can make sure there’s no serious underlying condition and can also prescribe you medications that can reduce the frequency or intensity of the symptoms.

If you experience drastic vision loss, vision loss in one eye, or have trouble thinking, seek immediate medical attention.