Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Ocular Migraine

Although ocular migraine is not recognized as a type of migraine by the International Headache Society, many doctors use the term ocular migraine. Therefore if you have been told you have ocular migraine be certain that you and your doctor are referring to the same set of symptoms. Keep in mind that many migraines are accompanied by migraine aura, which also causes visual symptoms. The term ocular migraine is often used to describe migraine with aura or retinal migraine, a less common type of migraine.

Migraine with aura typically causes disturbances in both eyes, while people with retinal migraine usually have symptoms in one eye.

Other names for ocular migraine

Many different terms may be used in reference to migraine involving visual symptoms.

  • Retinal migraine – recognized by the International Headache Society
  • Migraine with aura – recognized by the International Headache Society
  • Ophthalmic migraine
  • Optic migraine

Ocular migraine symptoms

For some migraine sufferers, symptoms that involve the eyes and eyesight are the most common and most disturbing. Vision problems can greatly limit your ability to perform your normal tasks such as driving or completing work or school work.

Migraine may be accompanied by many visual symptoms including:

  • Temporary vision changes that usually go away after 30 minutes
  • Temporary loss of vision in left eye or right eye, usually one spot or on one side
  • Temporary blurry vision
  • Seeing bright spots
  • Seeing floating lines
  • Seeing shimmering, colored or flickering lights
  • Seeing zigzagged lines or different patterns
  • Changes often occur in just one eye
  • On very rare occasions, the vision change is permanent

Based on your visual symptoms, you may be experiencing migraine with aura or retinal migraine.


What causes ocular migraines?

Just as with other types of migraine, the underlying cause for migraines with visual symptoms have not been definitively established. Many researchers believe that these symptoms are caused by a short-lived reduction in blood flow, which might be caused by a spasm in the blood vessels.

Treating ocular migraines

Like many migraine symptoms, the vision disturbances that occur with migraines usually go away after the migraine attack passes. Some migraine sufferers find that resting during an attack helps. As always, let your doctor know about your symptoms to make sure they are caused by a migraine and not a more serious issue.

Studies of ocular migraine sufferers

A 1990 study of 80 migraine sufferers who have pain on one side of their heads, a common symptom of retinal migraine, found that the blood flow to the pupil on the side with the pain was less than the blood flow in the pupil of the other eye. The pupil on the side with the head pain also dilated less and took longer to dilate in the dark than the pupil on the side without the pain.

Ocular migraine definition

As mentioned earlier, the International Headache Society does not recognize ocular migraine as a specific migraine type. However, if you are experiencing visual symptoms of migraine, you may be suffering from migraine with aura or retinal migraine, which is a rare type of migraine.

The International Headache Society describes retinal migraine as:

Repeated attacks of monocular visual disturbance, including scintillations, scotomata or blindness, associated with migraine headache.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Revised by: Kristine Zerkowski | Last reviewed: August 2014.
  2. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33(9):629-808.