It can be quite an alarming experience for someone who hasn’t had one before and doesn’t know what is happening. The name is also a little misleading because ocular migraines aren’t always linked to migraine headaches.
While ocular migraines themselves aren’t often a problem, they can sometimes be associated with something worse.
Some people experience the strange visual phenomenon of an ocular migraine without any pain. It might look like flashing or shimmering lights, psychedelic images, or an array of zigzagging lines or stars. Whatever it looks like, it typically begins as a small distortion in the center of the vision that spreads until it blots out everything else, before going away without a trace on its own. Painless ocular migraines like these should affect both eyes the same way at the same time.
Painless ocular migraines aren’t accompanied by headaches, but they can be associated with symptoms like temporary difficulty with speech and motor function. They can interfere with activities like reading, writing, or even driving, which is why we recommend for anyone who experiences an ocular migraine while on the road to pull over and wait for it to clear. Typically, it won’t take more than an hour.
20% of people who experience migraine headaches may get ocular migraines as a warning symptom of what’s coming next. This is an important symptom to bring up with your doctor and can be a valuable tool for you. Some people with this symptom succeed in reducing the frequency of their migraine headaches by using it to identify and avoid triggers like exposure to bright light, certain foods, or stress.
Despite the similar name, retinal and ocular migraines aren’t the same. Unlike ocular migraines, which are usually harmless, retinal migraines only affect one eye, not both. This is because they happen when the blood vessels in the retina constrict and cause reduced blood flow to it.
A retinal migraine may come along as rarely as once every few months, but it’s still important to inform your doctor if you experience them so that they can determine whether there’s a connection to another, more serious health condition.
We’re proud to be your lifelong partners in vision health, and part of that is that we need to know about any changes that happen with your vision, temporary or permanent. The symptoms we’ve described sound familiar, schedule an appointment so we can discuss it and look for the cause. You should also feel free to email us your ocular migraine questions.