What is an Ocular Migraine?
An ocular migraine can be a visual disturbance such as flashes of light, seeing stars or zigzags or the appearance of blind spots in the visual field. They may also be called eye, ophthalmic, or retinal migraines. Ocular migraines, by definition, do not include a headache. The visual symptoms don’t last long and do go away completely once the migraine has passed.
What Causes Ocular Migraines?
Similar to classic migraine headaches, the exact cause of an ocular migraine is unknown. Genetic predisposition seems to be a factor to some extent, and having a family history of migraines does put you at greater risk.
While they don’t know the cause, experts suspect that spasms in the blood vessels and nerves in the visual center of the brain are associated with ocular migraine symptoms.
For some, there are certain environmental triggers, or a combination of factors, that cause migraines. These differ on an individual basis but can include:
- Bright lights or loud sounds
- Strong smells
- A sudden or drastic change in weather conditions
- Eating, or exposure to, certain food substances such as, alcohol, caffeine, nitrates, MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners and tyramine.
Since triggers are different for everyone it’s advised to try to identify yours by keeping a journal to track your environment, diet and lifestyle habits, when you experience a headache.
Treatment for Ocular Migraines
Treatment for ocular migraines is usually not necessary as the symptoms typically resolve themselves within 30 minutes. It is advised to rest and avoid doing things that require vision and concentration until the headache goes away and the vision symptoms cease. If you are experiencing an ocular headache:
- Lie down in a quiet, dark room when possible
- Massage or apply pressure to the temples and scalp
- Apply a damp towel to the forehead
It’s important to note that if you are experiencing any unusual visual symptoms or an increase in frequency or duration of symptoms, you should see an eye doctor right away to rule out any serious, vision threatening conditions. Symptoms such as floaters or flashing lights can also be a sign of a retinal tear or hole.
If you get migraines, among the best ways to prevent them are to keep your mind and body healthy by eating nutritious foods, getting enough rest and managing stress effectively. If migraines are chronic, a preventative medication may be given by a primary care physician or neurologist.