A scintillating scotoma may affect one or both of your eyes. It’s a blind spot that flickers and wavers between light and dark. They’re typically not permanent but could indicate an underlying health condition.

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A scotoma is an aura or blind spot that obstructs part of your vision.

Like other types of scotoma, scintillating scotomas appear as floaters, dots, or blind spots in your field of vision. Scotomas smear and obscure what you see, but they aren’t pieces of dust or dirt that have landed in your eye.

Instead, scotomas are related to the neurological signals being sent from your eye to your brain. Anomalies in these neurological messages to your brain cause what looks like “glitches” or blind spots as you look at the world around you.

Scotomas are a type of aura, a visual phenomenon, that’s fairly common. Scintillating scotomas may look wavy or alternate growing from dark to light again. The edges of the spot you see are often jagged.

Headache pain may occur along with scintillating scotomas, or you may feel no pain at all. Scintillating scotomas can happen before or during a migraine or because of an underlying condition, such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis (MS).

Does MS cause scintillating scotomas?

MS has been linked to scintillating scotomas. That’s because inflammation of the optic nerve can be one of the early signs of MS, especially for young women.

Pressure or inflammation on the optic nerve can lead to scintillating scotomas. However, having scintillating scotomas doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have a diagnosis of MS.

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Scintillating scotomas are typically caused by what’s known as cortical spreading depression. Basically, this is abnormal electrical activity moving through your brain. These electrical impulses may be related to high blood pressure, inflammation, or hormonal fluctuations, among other things.

Health conditions that scintillating scotomas are related to include:

If you’re pregnant

If you’re pregnant, don’t ignore scotoma symptoms. Scintillating scotomas can be triggered by hormonal changes, such as the ones that happen during pregnancy. Migraine may happen to you for the first and only time during pregnancy for the same reason.

But scintillating scotomas can also be an early symptom of severe preeclampsia. High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause scotomas, and 25 percent of people with severe preeclampsia experience visual symptoms.

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Typically, scintillating scotomas don’t require treatment. In most cases, the blind spot will resolve on its own within about an hour.

Lying down to rest, closing your eyes, drinking water, and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may help to relieve mild symptoms of scotomas.

If you have symptoms of scotomas often due to migraine or another underlying health condition, your doctor may suggest treatment options. These options may include:

Some people may be more at risk of developing scintillating scotoma symptoms.

If you frequently have migraines with aura, you most likely have this symptom. Risk factors for migraine with aura include family history and being assigned female at birth. Having a mental health condition, such as depression, may put you at a higher risk for scotomas.

Lifestyle-related factors, such as high blood pressure, poorly-controlled blood sugar levels, stress, and anxiety, may also be connected to developing scotomas.

If you’re experiencing a visual disturbance, don’t try to drive or operate machinery. If you’re able to sit down, tilt your head back, and rest, do so. The scotoma will most likely resolve on its own.

There are some symptoms that, when they occur with scintillating scotoma, will need to be addressed by a medial professional. Seek medical attention right away if you experience the following:

  • sudden, severe headache
  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • dizziness or nausea
  • headache and scotomas following an accident or injury
  • numbness in your face, arms, or legs
  • disorientation or confusion

If you’re getting severe migraine for the first time or if your headache symptoms have changed from your typical experience, schedule an appointment to discuss it with your primary physician.

Scintillating scotomas are typically benign, meaning that they aren’t a cause for concern and they go away without treatment.

Recurring scintillating scotomas can indicate other health conditions, such as migraine, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and preeclampsia.

Other risk factors and symptoms you have will help your doctor determine whether your scotomas are a cause for concern.