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What Is An Ocular Migraine?

An ocular migraine is a term that is used to refer to two different types of medical conditions that affect the eyes. It can refer to the effect a migraine aura can have on vision. In this case, the visual disturbances precede the onset of the migraine and may include symptoms such as flashes of light, blind spots, and stars or spots that shimmer. This type of ocular migraine typically affects both eyes and is short-lived.

The other condition ocular migraine refers to is typically called a retinal or ophthalmic migraine and is much more serious. Though the other symptoms do occur, the defining characteristic of this condition is severely diminished sight or blindness in one eye. Most times, but not always, the sudden vision loss is accompanied by a migraine headache on the same side.

The second type of ocular migraine is rare. Only 1 person out of 200 migraine sufferers has these types of migraines. However, the condition tends to reoccur throughout the person’s lifetime. Left untreated, retinal migraines can cause permanent blindness. Therefore, if you lose vision for no apparent reason or the loss is accompanied by a migraine, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Signs of a Retinal Migraine

To make matters a little more confusing, retinal migraines are often confused with a similar condition called cortical spreading depression. The main difference between the two is that blindness in retinal migraines are caused by problems with the eye (such as vascular spasms behind the eye), whereas cortical spreading depression is the result of abnormal brain electrophysiological activity that affects the visual cortex.

To help you self-diagnose the issue, the signs of a retinal migraine are:

  • Blind spots in visual field
  • Dark spots or patterns
  • Flashing lights
  • Bright-colored streaks
  • Diagonal or zigzagging lines

As noted before, you may also develop a migraine on that side of the head. This is not always the case though, as ocular migraines can occur without head pain. Therefore, you should not consider the manifestation or absence of a severe headache to be the litmus test for whether or not you are suffering from a retinal migraine.

Treating Migraines

Currently, there is no cure for ocular migraines. Although the condition can be scary, it’s possible to reduce the frequency of episodes. The first line of treatment is usually medication. Topiramate, aspirin, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, and tricyclic antidepressants have all been used to treat this condition with some degree of success.

To compound the effectiveness of the medication, the doctor may recommend that you make changes to your lifestyle as well. According to research into the condition, retinal migraines may be caused by the same biological factors that lead to migraine headaches, and the triggers for both are often the same. They include:

  • Skipping meals
  • Unregulated blood sugar levels
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Bright flashing lights
  • Physical activities like strenuous exercise
  • Stress

Changing your lifestyle to eliminate these triggers can be immensely helpful in preventing ocular migraines.

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