The term ocular migraine can be a bit misleading. Typically, migraines imply excruciating physical head pain. However, ocular migraines describe the visual disturbances that can sometimes accompany traditional migraines.

Many migraines are preceded by an aura. This can be anything from nausea to experiencing hearing or vision loss. These often serve as a warning to these potentially devastating headaches. Most commonly, eye problems associated with auras and migraines occur in both eyes. Ocular migraines usually occur in only one eye and can prove to be very disorientating.

Only affecting about 0.5% of those with migraines, these visual disruptions have been known to occur with and without accompanied pain. Though symptoms are temporary, they can be very uncomfortable and quite disruptive to daily activity.

Symptoms of Ocular Migraines

Symptoms include:

  • Experiencing flashing of lights
  • Blind spots in your field of view
  • Seeing “stars”
  • Shimmering or zig zagging lines

Though these disturbances are rare they can inhibit driving, reading, or the ability to function properly at your place of work. Symptoms can last anywhere from 5-30 minutes and can affect one or both eyes simultaneously. Causes of these migraines are still relatively unknown; however there are certain triggers that have been known to contribute to them.

Intense light, powerful sound, and dominant odors have all been known to causes ocular migraines. Other triggers include certain foods with MSG, caffeinated beverages, artificial sweeteners, emotional stress, and poor sleeping habits. Additionally, the production of the hormone estrogen has been linked to these eye problems. Because of this, women are three times more likely to experience ocular migraines than men.

As with any medical condition of this nature, a family history of migraines usually puts you at a higher risk of experiencing them yourself. It is thought that during an episode, the brain releases an inflammatory chemical surrounding blood vessels and nerves in the head, which causes acute pain or disruptions in vision. Medical professionals know that blood flow to the brain is altered during an ocular migraine, however more research must be done to further understand this condition.


Visual migraines most commonly affect those aged 30-50 but have been known to start during puberty. Since these disruptions usually abate on their own, most individuals do not receive specialized treatment. If you experience visual disturbances, it’s usually best practice to stop what you are doing and rest your eyes, especially if you have been looking at a computer or phone screen all day.

Always take a general pain reliever if you are experiencing physical irritation. Make sure to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. He or she will help you determine if what you are experiencing is an ocular migraine or other type of visual condition such as:

  • Blood clots near or around the eye
  • Artery spasms
  • Giant Cell Arteritis
  • Side effects related to prescription drugs

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