What Is an Ocular Migraine?

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An ocular migraine causes temporary changes in vision that may or may not be accompanied by a headache. Some experts use the term only for vision changes that are part of the “aura” that accompanies the onset of a migraine headache in some people. Other times it is used to refer to another type of vision disorder linked to migraines, called retinal migraines.

This article will look at both types. Because the terminology can be confusing, talk to an eye doctor if you think you have ocular migraines, so that you understand your condition and any potential complications.

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Types of Ocular Migraines

Ocular migraines are subtypes of migraines. There are two types of ocular migraines: migraine with aura and retinal migraine.

Migraine With Aura

In a migraine with aura, you may have blind spots and see zig-zag lines, stars, or flashing lights in one or both eyes.

Vision changes and visual disturbances are the primary symptom, but you may also find your speech or movement are affected. You may feel a tingling sensation on one side of your face, or it may travel down your body. These symptoms are short lived and have no lasting effects.

Retinal Migraine

A retinal migraine affects only one eye and can occur before or during a headache. The symptoms, which can be more serious than those for a migraine with aura, may include temporary blindness or decreased vision.

If you experience a retinal migraine, it’s important to see an eye doctor, because, though rare, a retinal migraine can lead to permanent vision loss.

Causes of Ocular Migraines

Migraines are a neurological disease, but their root cause isn’t fully understood.

Migraines are associated with fluctuations in hormones like serotonin and estrogen, which may restrict blood flow to the brain. Some experts think retinal migraines may be due to blood vessel spasms or changes in the nerve cells in the retina.

While the cause is unclear, it is possible to determine what may trigger a migraine, which can aid in prevention.

Triggers vary from person to person, but some common triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Sensitivity to food additives
  • Hormonal changes
  • Flashing or fluorescent lights

Keeping a journal of when you experience an ocular migraine can help you identify triggers.

Diagnosing Ocular Migraines

If you notice temporary visual disturbances before a headache which make you sensitive to light or feel nauseous, contact your healthcare provider. They can help diagnose ocular migraines.

During an examination, they will ask you to describe your symptoms and may order an imaging test such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

Because it’s important to rule out other underlying conditions, they may also refer you to an ophthalmologist, who specializes in eye conditions, or a neurologist, who is an expert in conditions of the nervous system.

Treatment of Ocular Migraines

There is no specific treatment for ocular migraines, but the medications available to help treat and prevent migraine headaches can aid visual symptoms too.

Some common treatment and prevention options for migraines include:

If you have retinal migraines, avoid using triptans or ergots, as they can increase the risk of complications.

Coping With Ocular Migraines

Ocular migraines can be distressing, but they are temporary. If you notice vision changes that are bothering you, find a dark, quiet place to relax until they pass.

Migraines are often treatable, but because there are many different medications available, it may take some trial and error to find the ones that prevent or lessen the frequency of your migraines.

Lifestyle changes, like getting good sleep and eating regularly, and knowing your triggers may help reduce the frequency of your ocular migraines.

A Word From Verywell

Noticing vision changes, like seeing blind spots or flashing lights, can be scary. Pay attention to the length of your symptoms and whether or not they are followed by a headache. If you are concerned, contact your healthcare provider to determine if you have ocular migraines.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Migraine Foundation. Understanding ocular migraine.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. How a migraine happens.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Migraine headaches.

  4. American Migraine Foundation. Retinal migraine.

By Nancy LeBrun
In addition to her extensive health and wellness writing, Nancy has written about many general interest topics for publications as diverse as Newsweek, Teen Vogue, abcnews.com, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.