Understanding Ocular Migraine

Ocular migraines are rare and benign, but the symptoms can be frightening and worrisome for the suffering patient. Ocular migraines are thought to be caused by the same mechanics as regular migraines and are characterized by a visual disturbance or aura. The patient can experience a blind spot in their visual field, zig-zag patterns, flashing lights, or an array of colours similar to looking through a kaleidoscope. They may see things that aren’t there, like transparent strings of objects, or see objects in their vision disappear and reappear.

One in six adults in the United states are affected by migraines. Around 20 per cent of migraine sufferers experience some type of visual disturbance.

In a recent published study (June 2018) from the American Headache Society, participants with chronic and episodic migraine were given questionnaires that evaluate vision-specific quality of life. 


The researchers concluded there are significant adverse effects on the visual quality of life in sufferers of both sub-groups. Chronic migraineurs showed scores as poor as those patients with other neuro‐ophthalmic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, and ischemic optic neuropathy.

Ocular migraine episodes can be concerning for the sufferer; however, most symptoms resolve on their own within an hour. They may or may not end with a migraine headache. Some ways to help relieve symptoms include:

  • Lying down in a dark room
  • Placing a damp cloth or cool pack on the forehead
  • Taking over-the-counter painkiller medication

Recent scientific evidence suggests that structural abnormalities in the visual cortex are the cause for ocular migraines. In a 2015 study, MRI data was taken from people with one-sided ocular migraine. In these subjects, the affected side showed different thicknesses in certain areas of the cortex. There is a possibility that the difference in these structures may account for higher sensitivity to neuronal activity. Researchers are still studying the causes in the brain for migraines. As of now there is no known cause for the onset of migraines.  Some common migraine triggers include strong odours, certain foods, bright lights, fatigue, stress and hormonal changes. Patients can take measures to prevent the onset of migraines by adopting lifestyle habits such as:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Staying hydrated
  • Managing emotional stress
  • Regular light exercise
  • Avoiding certain trigger foods

Patients who have had ocular migraine before are likely to have them again and can learn what remedy works for them and get back to their routine without problems. However, if a person with migraines has unusual symptoms of vision loss, loss of sensation or difficulties with speech, this can be a sign of more serious conditions and should not be ignored. Its best to get patients in to be checked by an optometrist to rule out serious conditions.

 References:

https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/head.13330

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325733.php

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/148373.php

https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/ocular-migraine.htm

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