Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of migraine headaches, but you may not have heard of a related condition called Ocular Migraine. This uncommon issue occurs suddenly and without warning, and can be alarming to experience.

What is an Ocular Migraine?

An ocular migraine is a vision disturbance with an unclear cause, though the most widely accepted theory is an artery in spasm alters blood flow to the retina. An optometrist may hear accounts of ocular migraines from patients who also suffer from typical migraine headaches, so it can be difficult to properly diagnose the condition. The syndrome may be activated by mutual stimuli of migraine headaches, including bright light, fatigue, eye strain, stress, ingesting certain foods or medication, plus many other triggers.

The difference between ocular migraines and typical migraines is sometimes difficult to understand. Let’s first discuss a migraine aura. An aura includes not only visual disturbances, but also hallucinations, bodily weakness, and more. A migraine headache sufferer generally experiences this in both eyes, accompanied by head pain. The major difference between an ocular migraine and a typical migraine is that ocular migraine may be painless and can be isolated to one eye. A migraine headache may appear alongside the onset of an ocular migraine, but it is equally common for the two to occur independently.

 A bright, flashing, zigzag or geometric pattern is the most common symptom of the ocular migraine. It can begin as a small spot in the field of vision and gradually expand, overtaking the entire visual plane before finally receding. This can be very frightening and spur a visit to the ER or optometrist the first time it happens. Ocular migraines can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours. The symptoms can disappear as quickly as they arrive, and may leave no residual effects behind.

Upon the onset of an ocular migraine, immediately find a safe place to sit, and if you are driving, pull over immediately. The visual disruption is very dangerous and can easily result in injury. Typical migraine treatments will help an ocular migraine, including rest in a dark room, cool compresses on the eyes, eating quality foods, avoiding allergens, managing stress, and taking medication if prescribed by your optometrist.

An ocular migraine can occur suddenly and be extremely frightening. If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult an optometrist for diagnosis and treatment.