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What Is An Ophthalmic Migraine?

An ophthalmic migraine (also called ocular or eye migraines) is rare medical disorder characterized by sudden blindness in one eye. These episodes usually only last for an hour or less and then vision returns to the affected eye. These ophthalmic migraines are often accompanied by severe headaches. However, there are cases when the condition occurs without head pain.

Causes of Ophthalmic Migraines

Researchers believe that ophthalmic migraines are caused by the same neurological problems that bring about regular migraines. There is evidence to support the idea that, like migraines, this condition is a genetic disorder. A study by the World Health Organization found that 70 percent of people who have this disorder have a family history of severe headaches.

Ocular migraine triggers appear to be the same ones that induce regular migraines and vary depending on the person. These triggers include stress, lack of adequate sleep, food sensitivities or allergies, poor eating habits, and medication to name a few. The frequency a person will experience episodes also vary. Some people will have them often, while others will experience the condition only once or twice a year. No matter the frequency, these types of migraines can lead to permanent vision loss if the condition is not treated.

Symptoms of Ophthalmic Migraines

The primary symptom of an ophthalmic migraine is vision disruption or loss in one eye for a short period of time. The person may experience a number of visual disturbances including:

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

In addition to impaired vision, the person may develop a severe headache on the same side as the affected eye, which may begin within a few minutes after the episode starts or up to an hour after it ends. The migraine may produce additional symptoms such as:

  • Pulsating or throbbing sensation in the head
  • Light and sound hypersensitivity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Tenderness or soreness on that side of the head
  • Symptoms worsen with physical activity

Ophthalmic migraines share symptoms with, but are distinct from, another condition called cortical spreading depression. This neurological condition causes temporary blindness due to abnormal electrophysiological activity in the brain, which affects the visual cortex. Ophthalmic migraines involve dysfunction in the actual eye due to vascular spasms behind the eye or sudden changes in the nerve cells in the eye.

Treating Ophthalmic Migraines

Treatment for this condition starts with making an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will screen for other possible causes of vision loss, such as an autoimmune disease or blood clotting disorders. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, you may be prescribed medication to prevent future episodes. This medication includes topiramate, aspirin, beta-blockers, and tricyclic antidepressants. The doctor will likely also recommend making lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of the problem.

While there currently isn’t a cure for ophthalmic migraines, it’s possible to live normally with the condition by making healthy lifestyle choices and following the advice of your family doctor.

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