Ocular Migraine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020

The term “ocular” migraine is not an official type of migraine recognized by the International Headache Society. Still, many doctors use the term. “Ocular” means “eye” and may be used to describe the types of migraine that cause visual changes. This includes migraine with aura and retinal migraine.1,2

Migraine with aura usually causes vision changes in both eyes at once. People with retinal migraine have vision changes in only 1 eye. Visual symptoms are usually more severe in people with retinal migraine.

Ocular migraine symptoms

Symptoms that involve the eyes and eyesight are among the most common and most disturbing. Vision problems may limit a person’s ability to perform normal tasks such as driving or completing schoolwork.1

Vision changes that are common in people with migraines include:1

  • Loss of sight in 1 eye or blind spots
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing bright spots, zigzag or floating lines, stars, or shimmering, colored or flickering lights
  • Temporary loss of vision

The type of visual symptoms you have will help your doctor diagnose whether you have migraine with aura or retinal migraine. Permanent blindness is a rare complication of retinal migraine.

What causes ocular migraines?

Doctors believe that migraine with aura is caused by abnormal electrical activity in certain areas of the brain, specifically the cortex, or outer surface. These abnormal electrical impulses gradually spread across the cortex over 5 to 60 minutes, and this causes the visual changes.1

Doctors believe retinal migraines may be caused by the same type of abnormal electrical activity but it takes place in the retina, which is located in the back of the eye. Retinal migraine may also be caused by slow blood flow to the retina.

Triggers for ocular migraines include bright or flickering lights, looking at an electronic screen for long periods, and eye strain from driving long distances. Other common migraine triggers include stress, dehydration, high altitude, and low blood sugar.1

Treating ocular migraines

Some people with migraine find that rest during an attack helps. Common treatments for mild or occasional ocular migraine symptoms include acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and anti-nausea drugs. Preventive drugs include calcium channel blockers, and anti-epileptic and tricyclic drugs.1

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