An ocular migraine is a migraine attack that causes temporary blindness (loss of vision) or distorted vision in one eye. Ocular migraines are also known as retinal migraines, eye migraines, or ophthalmic migraines.
The symptoms of an ocular migraine usually last less than an hour. Vision disturbances are sometimes followed by a headache, but you can also get the headache during the attack.
What causes it?
Ocular migraines happen when there’s reduced blood flow to your eye. This is caused by a sudden constriction (tightening) of blood vessels.
What are the symptoms of an ocular migraine?
Ocular migraines will usually cause temporary or complete vision loss in one eye.
Ocular migraine can also cause disturbances to your vision such as:
- blank spots in your vision (scotomas)
- flashes of light
How long does an episode last?
The symptoms of an ocular migraine should last less than 1 hour long. However, some people will get headaches that last longer, or will get headaches that only start once the main visual symptoms have stopped.
What is the difference between an ‘ocular migraine’ and a ‘migraine with aura’?
They’re not the same type of migraine and need different types of treatment. Make sure you and your doctor are using the same terms when talking about your migraines.
Ocular migraines and migraines with auras both cause visual distortions (changes in your vision). The main difference is that ocular migraines only affects one eye, whereas migraines with auras affect both. Migraines with auras also don’t necessarily cause a headache, whereas ocular migraines usually do.
Who gets them?
Ocular migraines are most common in:
- people under 40
- people with a history of migraines (a personal or family history)
They’re also more likely to occur in people who have diseases like:
- hardened arteries
- sickle cell disease
However, anyone can get an ocular migraine.
How is it treated?
The symptoms of an ocular migraine are usually very brief, so visual symptoms don’t tend to be treated. You can treat the following or accompanying headache by using over-the-counter painkillers, like paracetamol or ibuprofen.
There are also certain drugs that your doctor might prescribe you to help prevent getting them. These include: drugs for high blood pressure, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, and anti-convulsants.
The best way to avoid getting an ocular migraine is by reducing your exposure to the most common triggers.
What are the triggers for an ocular migraine?
The most common triggers are:
- stress or anxiety
- high blood pressure or low blood pressure
- hormonal oral contraceptive pills (‘the pill’)
- physical activity or exercise
- not drinking enough water
- being too hot
- high altitudes
Dietary triggers (like caffeine, red wine or chocolate) are less common triggers for ocular migraines, but can cause other types of migraine.
When to see a doctor
You should let your doctor know if you get any type of migraine for the first time. It is important then to have a medical exam to rule out other conditions such as blood clot, stroke, pituitary tumor, or detached retina.
If you think you’re having ocular migraines or are concerned about your migraine symptoms, go to your doctor for advice. They will assess whether you would benefit from treatment or will give advice on how to manage your symptoms.
It is important that you don’t drive while you’re suffering from ocular migraine as it can impact your ability to drive.