If yes, then you may have had an ocular migraine. They’re usually not something to worry about, but they can be pretty alarming for someone who’s never had one before. The word “migraine” here can be a little misleading because ocular migraines aren’t always connected to painful headaches.
The ocular migraines themselves aren’t often the problem, but depending on the type, they can be associated with something worse.
One in five people who deal with migraine headaches might get ocular migraines as a warning symptom that the migraine is about to arrive. Make sure to discuss any visual distortions you experience before headaches with your doctor. Some people are able to reduce the frequency of their migraines by avoiding triggers like stress, exposure to bright light, and eating certain foods. Oral contraceptives and smoking may also be triggers.
Some people experience this strange visual phenomenon on its own, and it can look different to different people. Some might see flashing or shimmering lights, others see psychedelic images, and still others see zigzagging lines or stars. No matter how it looks, though, it will typically begin as a small distortion that soon spreads until it obscures everything before clearing up on its own. It should affect both eyes the same.
While painless ocular migraines aren’t associated with headaches, they can have other symptoms such as a temporary impact on speech and motor function. They may not indicate a serious medical problem, but they can interfere with normal activities like driving, reading, or writing. If you notice strange visual distortions while you’re on the road, pull over and wait for it to subside. This will typically take no more than an hour.
The third and rarest type of ocular migraine is potentially more dangerous. Unlike the harmless variety, retinal migraines only affect one eye (though they can still precede a migraine headache). Retinal migraines are the result of a reduced blood flow to the eye due to the vessels in the retina constricting.
Retinal migraines might only happen once every few months and long-term damage is rare, but make sure your eye doctor knows if you’re experiencing these. It’s important to determine whether it’s connected to a more serious condition.
As your partners in vision health, we want to know about any changes you experience with your vision, whether they are temporary or permanent. If you think you’re experiencing a form of ocular migraine, schedule an appointment and let us know. You can also call us or email with your questions about ocular migraines.