Ocular migraine, also known as retinal migraine, is a condition characterized by temporary vision loss or disturbances in one eye. It is often accompanied by migraine headaches but can also occur without head pain. Ocular migraines are caused by reduced blood flow to the retina or by nerve dysfunction.
Symptoms usually last between 10 to 30 minutes but can sometimes continue for hours. While frightening, most ocular migraines are benign and temporary. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments can help those affected manage this condition.
Understanding Ocular Migraine And Its Symptoms
The primary symptom of ocular migraine is vision loss or vision disturbances in one eye. This can include blind spots, blurry vision, zigzag lines, shimmering lights, or tunnel vision. The visual disturbances often affect just a portion of the field of vision and may move across it. Vision loss and visual auras typically last 10 to 30 minutes but can sometimes continue for an hour or longer before resolving.
Around three-quarters of people with ocular migraines also experience head pain afterward. The headache pain is often one-sided and has migraine features such as throbbing intensity, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. However, about 25% of people with retinal migraines do not experience headaches.
Ocular migraine attacks can occur rarely or up to several times a month. For most people, the episodes are infrequent. Warning signs like blurry vision, flashing lights, or tingling may precede an attack by 5 to 20 minutes. After the visual symptoms resolve, a dull headache may linger. Fatigue is also common after an episode.
What Are The Causes Of Ocular Migraines?
The exact causes of ocular migraines are not fully understood. However, reduced blood flow to the retina or dysfunctional nerve signaling appears to underlie the condition.
As with classic migraines, ocular migraines may be triggered by specific factors in susceptible individuals, such as:
Ocular migraines are more common in people who have a family history of migraine headaches. They rarely indicate an underlying medical emergency. However, those over age 50 experiencing first-time symptoms should see an eye doctor to rule out other causes.
Treatments For Ocular Migraine
There is no cure for ocular migraines. However, treatments can help shorten attacks and prevent recurrence. Self-care steps like resting in a quiet, dark room can provide symptom relief. Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve associated headaches.
Prescription medications used to treat and prevent regular migraines, like beta blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs, may also reduce ocular migraine attacks. Preventative medications are generally recommended if episodes occur more than once per month.
Making lifestyle modifications can also minimize ocular migraine triggers. Steps like avoiding known triggers, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, staying hydrated, minimizing stress, and getting regular exercise and sleep may help reduce attack frequency. Biofeedback, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture can also help manage migraines.
Ocular migraines can be alarming when they first occur. But understanding that the visual disturbances and eye pain are benign and temporary can provide reassurance. While largely harmless, keeping track of symptoms, avoiding triggers, and consulting a doctor for persistent or severe episodes can help minimize their impact.
Using preventative medication when attacks are frequent can also reduce recurrence. With proper management, most people with ocular migraines can go on to live normal, healthy lives.
A: Ocular migraines are not dangerous or a sign of eye damage for most people. While vision loss can be disturbing, it is temporary and not harmful. However, those experiencing first-time symptoms after age 50 should see an eye doctor.
A: An ophthalmologist can often diagnose ocular migraines from reported symptoms alone without special tests. Imaging like MRI or CT scans are not usually needed unless ruling out blood vessel or other eye issues.
A: Optic migraines affect the optic nerve, while ocular migraines affect the retina. Both can cause vision loss but optic migraines often begin with central vision loss. Ocular migraines usually only affect peripheral or partial vision.
A: Yes, ocular migraines can affect children but are less common. Children with recurring retinal migraines should see an ophthalmologist to rule out other causes. Most grow out of them by adulthood.
A: Those who experience transient vision loss from ocular migraines should avoid driving during an attack. Letting your doctor know about any impact on driving is important to reduce risks. Tracking attack frequency and timing can help plan driving accordingly.