Ocular Migraines

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An ocular migraine occurs when blood vessels that supply the part of the brain responsible for visible spasm. They are usually of short duration - several minutes to an hour.

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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.

ocular migraine

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.

Normal ocular migraine symptoms include:

  • A blank spot in the visual field
  • Flickering colored lights in the periphery of vision
  • Zig zag lines in the visual field
  • Blurred area of vision, mostly around the periphery, as though you are looking at heat waves rising off hot pavement.

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.

However, 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

If an ocular migraine is followed by a one-sided headache that throbs, it is called a "migraine with aura."

Causes of Ocular Migraines

Some scientists think that ocular (visual) migraines are caused by triggered inflammatory substances released in the tissues surrounding the circulatory and nerve system of the head and brain.

Ocular migraines may be due to stress and fatigue - the same probable causes of migraine headaches. Learn more about migraine headaches, computer eye-fatigue. These related causes can include improper glasses and other conditions such as hypertension, sinus conditions, tumors, hormonal changes, certain foods such as alcohol, aged cheese, MSG or chocolate, or other allergies rather than due to problems related to the eyes.

However, while scientists are not sure exactly what causes ocular migraines, they do appear to be tied to blood vessel spasms in the retina, or in the back of the eye in the vessels that supply the retina with blood. They may be due to other changes in the optic nerve.

An ocular migraine can appear simultaneously with a migraine headache.

Conventional Treatment

Ocular migraines tend to go away after a few minutes to an hour and generally treatment is not needed. However, if you have them repeatedly it will be a good idea to have an exam. 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 condition.

Similarly, if you have frequent migraine headaches, you should talk to your health care professional.

Self Help

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 in the event that the ocular migraines are tied to an allergy.
  • Sleep routine. Wake up at the same time each morning, and get plenty of sleep at night
  • Finally, acupuncture is worth considering.

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