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Ocular migraine? A debilitating eye migraine can really ruin your day. Stress, fatigue and certain foods can sometimes bring on visual migraines, also known as ocular migraines.
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Ocular migraines are common variations of migraine headaches. They are apparently caused by the same body malfunctioning as a classical migraine: a sudden constriction of blood vessels, known as a vascular spasm. However, these temporary spasms are thought to occur in the blood vessels of the retina (the delicate lining in the back of one's eyes), or in changes across the retina's nerve cells. They can affect one or both eyes, and usually are harmless and resolve without any medication.
An ocular migraine typically begins with a visual disturbance beginning in the side vision, usually consisting of a ring (changing to solid) semi-circular, jagged-edged, shimmering lightness, usually pale pastel. This disturbance often distorts or clouds the vision within the light area.
Typically, the visual disturbance lasts about 15 - 20 minutes before disappearing. A mild headache might follow the visual effect. Many patients only notice tiredness after ocular migraine goes away.
Symptoms can be quite varied and related to possible underlying problems. We'll describe the types of visual or ocular migraine one might experience and their symptoms.
Note: "Regular" migraines appear to occur due to constriction and dilation of fine arteries in the head and can be intensely painful. The pain often stays on one side of the head, and might be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Eye fatigue headaches or visual migraines:
- Headaches that start after long periods of computer use, reading, watching television, etc.
- Burning eyes
- Throbbing pain
- Sound- and light-sensitivity
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Visual "aura" which might be flashes of light, irregular lights, or missing areas of vision
Glaucoma: Acute (narrow) angle-closure:
- This is an ocular emergency - see your doctor right away
- Intense headache often centralized over brow
- Glare or halos around lights
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Causes of Migrianes
Visual migraines are often due to stress and fatigue. The so-called "Friday night" headache may follow the stress of a hectic week.
Eye-fatigue related headaches typically occur after long hours of close work that require focusing. This is one reason why it is so important to always remember to stop and take a break from time to time when you are on the computer or otherwise doing close work. Eye fatigue related headaches generally go away after some rest. Eye exercises can be helpful to relax the muscles of and around the eyes.
In some cases, headaches may be due eyestrain from improper eyeglasses. Crossing or drifting outward vision may also start a headache.
Visual headaches may begin due to hypertension, sinus conditions, tumors, hormonal changes or allergies rather than due to problems related to the eyes.
Angle-closure glaucoma or narrow angle glaucoma can cause an intense headache, but in this case the headache is only part of the problem. Patients experiencing an angle-closure event may also experience intense pain around the eye, nausea, blurred vision, and haloes around lights. This is an ocular emergency and you should immediately go to the emergency room and call your ophthalmologist.
Certain foods and additives such as alcohol, aged cheese, MSG and chocolate may give rise to ocular migraines for some people. Some people notice, for example, that if they eat a lot of cheese or tomato sauce for several consecutive days that a migraine results.
Normal practice is for a medical doctor to get your complete medical history and give you a thorough physical exam to rule out causes of the headache from other physical conditions. An ophthalmologist can verify that eye-related problems are not contributing to the headache.
Management of stress, blood pressure, and medications to maintain appropriate hormonal levels may be appropriate, as might new glasses or better work lighting.
If you have persistent headaches, it is important to consult your health care provider for a thorough physical evaluation.
Diet, Nutrition & Lifestyle Choices
- Be sure to also read our lifestyle recommendations for migraine headaches.
- See our essential vision wellness tips for this eye condition.
- Stress. Manage stress - meditate, take cool walks in the morning, do yoga ... whatever works well for you.
- Computer. Avoid long hours on the computer and take frequent breaks.
- Exercise regularly, at least 3x weekly. Exercise reduces the amount of pain from migraines although it does not directly stop migraines by itself.
- Pay attention to what you eat. Keep a log of foods that are suspect: cheeses (aged), dairy, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and possible allergens; tomato sauces and spicy foods for some people.
- Sleep routine. Wake up at the same time each morning, and get plenty of sleep at night
- Finally, acupuncture is worth considering.