Ocular Migraines

Ocular Migraines and Your Vision

Also called retinal, monocular or ophthalmic migraines, ocular migraines cause partial alteration of your field of vision, including loss of vision, disturbances in vision, or blindness that lasts less than one hour that is often recurring. A migraine may accompany the vision disturbances or it may precede or follow them. This condition affects approximately 1 in 200 people who have migraines.

When you visit your eye doctor, be able to describe your symptoms accurately. Your doctor will need to rule out any other possible conditions such as blood clot, stroke, pituitary tumor, or detached retina in order to diagnose ocular migraines.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms for an ocular migraine are inclusive of multiple vision problems that affect only one of the eyes. Of these vision problems, you may experience disturbances such as flashing lights, zigzag patterns, shimmering spots or stars; blind spots in your field of vision; or blindness in the eye. Other symptoms include a headache that lasts from 4 to as long as 72 hours.

The symptoms of the headache will affect one side of your head. They can feel between moderately to severely painful and pulsate in intensity. Additionally, they can feel worse when you’re physically active. Some other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and/or sound.

It is important in diagnosing an ocular migraine that the vision loss only affects one eye. Regular migraines can have auras, which affect one side of your field of vision but usually affect both eyes. About 20% of people who experience migraines experience auras accompanying them. If you are looking to diagnose an ocular migraine, covering one eye and then the other may help you determine where the symptoms are localized.

Causes of Ocular Migraines

Doctors are unclear about what causes ocular migraines, but they feel that issues with the retina, the thin lining in the back of the eye, may cause them. These issues may include spasms that cut off blood flow or changes in the nerve cells. Ocular migraines may also be exacerbated by exercise.

Diagnosing an Ocular Migraine

To be diagnosed with an ocular migraine condition, your doctor must rule out any underlying causes for the symptoms you are experiencing such as blood clot, stroke, pituitary tumor, or detached retina. If your retina exam is normal, it is possible that you are experiencing ocular migraines.

Ocular Migraine Treatment

Although there is only a small body of research on what can treat or prevent ocular migraines, your doctor may recommend Aspirin; anti-epileptic (anti-seizure) medications, such as Depakote (divalproex sodium) or Topamax (topiramate); Beta-blockers; or tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil (amitriptyline) or Pamelor (nortriptyline) as possible treatments.

Treatment may also depend on identifying what is triggering your migraines. For example, skipping meals, losing sleep, and stress can call contribute to migraines. If you think you are experiencing ocular migraines, evaluate your daily activities to see what might be causing your migraines.

Patients who experience ocular migraines have a higher risk of losing vision in one of their eyes permanently. It is unknown whether there are preventative treatments for this permanent vision loss, such as anti-epileptic (anti-seizure) medications or tricyclic antidepressants. If you have concerns, consult your doctor to find out what might work for your ocular migraines and increased risk of long-term vision.

Consult Your Doctor

Ocular migraines can be difficult to diagnose if you don’t know your exact symptoms. You should be able to explain to your doctor with certainty that the symptoms are appearing in only one eye and not both, because this can indicate a much more serious problem than ordinary migraine auras. Consult your doctor about whether or not you should be treated for ocular migraines.

Ocular migraines affect quality of life. They can cause difficulty reading and it is dangerous to drive when you have one. If you experience ocular migraines and are concerned about either temporary discomfort or potential permanent vision loss, schedule a visit with Dr. Ghosheh of Laser for Eyes. You can take a look at Dr. Ghosheh’s medical blog for more information about both ocular migraines and other eye disorders and diseases.