The exact cause of ocular migraine is not entirely understood. However, certain triggers have been identified including bright lights, stress, and more.
“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.
An ocular migraine attack can interfere with your ability to perform tasks like reading, writing, or driving. Symptoms are temporary, and 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
There’s a genetic link to migraine. In fact, genetics may account for up to 60% of a person’s chance of having the condition.
There may also be a link between estrogen levels and migraine. However, the exact nature of this relationship isn’t clear.
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.
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:
- bright lights
- loud sounds
- powerful odors
- stress, anxiety, relaxation after a period of stress
- changing weather
- some alcoholic beverages, especially red wine
- too much caffeine or withdrawal from caffeine
- foods containing nitrates (hot dogs, luncheon meats)
- foods containing monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG (fast foods, seasonings, spices, broths)
- foods containing tyramine (aged cheeses, hard sausages, smoked fish, soy products, fava beans)
- artificial sweeteners
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
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
- 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. Migraine is a neurological disorder whereas headache describes the symptom of head pain.
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.
Sometimes, headaches with aura are a symptom of an underlying condition. These can include:
- head injury
- brain tumor
- hemorrhagic stroke, a burst artery in the brain
- ischemic stroke, a blocked artery in the brain
- aneurysm, widening or bulging of part of an artery due to weakness in the wall of the blood vessel
- arteriovenous malformation, abnormal tangle of veins and arteries in the brain
- arterial dissection, a tear in an artery that supplies blood to the brain
- cerebral vasculitis, inflammation of the blood vessel system in the vein
- hydrocephalus, excessive buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
- inflammation due to meningitis, encephalitis, or other infections
- trigeminal neuralgia
- structural abnormalities of the head, neck, or spine
- spinal fluid leak
- exposure to or withdrawal from toxic substances
Migraine can be debilitating and impact your quality of life. If you’re experiencing blind spots or vision disturbances, for example, you’ll want to wait until they pass before driving.
An ocular migraine attack 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 episodes. 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 sitting 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
Below are some commonly asked questions about ocular migraine.
What causes ocular migraine?
The exact cause isn’t known, but common triggers may include stress, hormones, bright or flickering lights, loud sounds, and certain foods.
Are auras dangerous?
Not usually. However, you should seek medical advice if the auras interfere with daily activities or if there are changes in vision that don’t go away after an hour. It’s important to avoid driving or performing any activities that require good eyesight until the aura has passed.
Are there any home remedies for ocular migraine?
Yes. Home remedies may include lying down in a dark and quiet room, scalp massage, applying pressure to your temples, and using a damp cloth over your forehead.
Additionally, taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or Excedrin Migraine can help reduce symptoms.
What type of doctor should I see if I’m experiencing ocular migraine?
A neurologist is typically the best doctor to see. They can recommend treatments and medications that may help reduce symptoms.
Additionally, they are knowledgeable about other conditions which may be causing your headaches or vision disturbances and can provide an accurate diagnosis.
While ocular migraine may not need treatment, you should consult a doctor if you have them frequently. You should also call a doctor if they’re increasing in frequency.
A medical professional 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, have vision loss in one eye, or have trouble thinking, seek immediate medical attention.