For migraine sufferers, visual disturbances like zigzag lines or flashes of light are common occurrences, especially in those who experience an aura prior to a migraine. But some people experience these visual disturbances and do not get the pain associated with a migraine. These visual disturbances are known as ocular migraines or migraines of the eye. But what exactly are they and why do they happen so frequently?
What are Ocular Migraines?
The term ocular migraine is used to describe a migraine that takes place in the eye. These migraines can manifest as a variety of different visual disturbances including:
- Zigzag lines
- Bright flashes of light
- Scotomas or blind spots (loss of vision in a certain area of the visual field, typically in the peripheral vision)
- Scintillations or sparkling, usually of lights or stars but can also be blind spots
These are the most common symptoms of an ocular migraine, but the visual disturbance caused by this type of migraine can manifest as anything from shadows in the vision to a complete but temporary loss of vision in the eye.
What makes an ocular migraine different from an aura is that it typically only occurs in one eye and lasts only a few minutes to an hour. They are also not followed by an actual migraine headache (although they can be).
Why do I Get Ocular Migraines?
Migraines are caused by cortical spreading depression, a medical term used to describe abnormal electrical activity in the brain that typically starts in the occipital lobe (the back of the head) and spreads through the rest of the brain at a slow but steady pace. Ocular migraines may be caused by this same phenomenon that takes place in the retina of the eye.
What Causes Frequent Ocular Migraines?
Frequent ocular migraines are usually the result of a trigger of some type. Like migraines, ocular migraines can be triggered by a variety of things. Some examples include:
- Lights, sounds, or smells
- Looking at a computer screen or reading for long periods of time
- Certain foods like nitrates or MSG
- Changes in weather or barometric pressure
- Hormonal changes
Tracking ocular migraines along with potential triggers can help you determine what your triggers are. However, if you start to notice a sudden increase in the frequency of your ocular migraines, or are experiencing them for the first time, it’s important to call a headache specialist like the doctors at the National Headache Institute for an evaluation.
Treating Ocular Migraines
Like migraine headaches, ocular migraines are difficult to treat because they are so brief. For the occasional ocular migraine, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) like ibuprofen can be helpful.
For those experiencing frequent ocular migraines, prescription medications such as tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline, calcium channel blockers like amlodipine, or medications used to treat epilepsy can be helpful.
If you are experiencing ocular migraines or migraine headaches, don’t continue to suffer. The doctors at the National Headache Institute can help. Contact us today.