Ocular migraine shows up as either a classic migraine attack with aura or a retinal migraine attack. Migraine with aura is more likely to occur in four stages.

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Ocular migraine, which is migraine with visual disturbances, can be divided into two types: retinal migraine and migraine with aura.

Unlike typical migraine, retinal migraine doesn’t appear in stages.

A typical migraine attack, including episodes with aura, develops in four stages. These include:

  1. Premonitory symptoms: These include food cravings, changes in your mood, increased urination, or fluid retention, which can all develop up to 24 hours before a migraine attack.
  2. Aura: If you have migraine with aura, you might experience visual disturbances during this next stage. Other possible symptoms of aura include muscle weakness and temporary loss of speech.
  3. Headache: While not present in all migraine attacks, most people experience a severe headache in the third stage. Migraine headaches can last for hours or days and may be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light.
  4. Postdrome: This final stage consists of exhaustion and sometimes confusion. It can last for a full day.

While there are no formal stages of an ocular migraine attack, here’s what you can expect in terms of triggers, timeline, and more.

Ocular migraine is primarily known for causing brief visual changes. These can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more, and they can vary based on the type of migraine you have. Retinal migraine attacks typically cause very brief instances of blindness or blurry vision.

Most cases of ocular migraine begin with visual disturbances, which are typically followed by a severe migraine headache.

Retinal migraine affects one eye only. With this type, you may experience:

  • blurry vision
  • temporary peripheral vision loss
  • colored spots
  • zig-zag lines
  • twinkling lights

Migraine with aura, on the other hand, affects both eyes. You might see:

  • flashing lights
  • stars
  • patterns
  • zig-zag lines
  • temporary blind spots

A retinal migraine episode typically lasts for several minutes. It rarely lasts more than an hour.

Typically, visual changes begin before the onset of a migraine headache, though these can sometimes occur together. During this time, you may experience temporary vision changes as well as a painful headache.

A migraine episode with aura can last between 4 and 72 hours.

You may be at an increased risk of developing ocular migraine if you have a personal or family history of migraine. Also, this type of migraine is most common in women in their 30s.

Ocular migraine triggers are similar to those of other migraine types. Some of these triggers may include exposure to bright or flashing lights and too much screen time.

The triggers of an ocular migraine are highly individual but typically include things like:

An ocular migraine is a temporary occurrence and isn’t considered a medical emergency. If you suspect either a retinal migraine or migraine with aura, consider talking with a doctor about your symptoms. They can help accurately diagnose your condition and offer treatment.

Treatment options for ocular migraine may include trigger avoidance, over-the-counter pain relievers to treat head pain, and prescription medications.

Any visual disturbances that accompany confusion or sudden weakness may warrant emergency medical help. Such symptoms could be associated with a more serious medical condition.

What’s the difference between an ocular migraine and migraine with aura?

The term ocular migraine was once used to describe migraine episodes with visual disturbances. While it’s sometimes used interchangeably with the term retinal migraine, ocular migraine is actually an umbrella term for both retinal migraine and migraine with aura.

A retinal migraine causes symptoms in one eye only, which can sometimes include temporary vision loss. While migraine with aura also causes visual disturbances, it affects both eyes at the same time.

How long is too long for an ocular migraine?

An ocular migraine shouldn’t last longer than 60 minutes. While an ocular migraine may last for just a few minutes, it can sometimes go on for up to an hour.

What causes ocular migraine?

Depending on subtype, an ocular migraine is caused by either changes that affect the blood vessels that serve the eyes, as in a retinal migraine, or electrical activity changes in the brain, as seen in migraine with aura.

An ocular migraine is a term that’s sometimes used to describe types of migraine that cause visual disturbances. Depending on the underlying cause, the preferred medical terms are retinal migraine or migraine with aura.

Both types of ocular migraine can cause temporary changes in vision along with headaches and can last up to an hour. The key difference is that a retinal migraine affects one eye, while migraine with aura affects both eyes.

If you suspect you have an ocular migraine, consider talking with a doctor to obtain a diagnosis and possible treatment plan to help prevent future episodes.