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Ocular Migraines: A Strange Eye Symptom

Have you ever had a shimmering patch of light appear in your vision, then widen until you can’t see anything else?

If you answered yes, you might’ve experienced an ocular migraine. It can be very alarming to someone who doesn’t know what is happening, and the name is a little misleading because they aren’t always linked to migraine headaches.

The Various Types of Visual Migraines

Most of the time, an ocular migraine isn’t a serious problem, but it can sometimes indicate a bigger issue. They fall into a few different categories.

Painless Ocular Migraines

The strange visual phenomenon of an ocular migraine can occur without any accompanying pain. It can appear like flashing or shimmering lights, psychedelic images, or an array of zigzagging lines or stars, like a kaleidoscope is spinning in your eyes. No matter how it looks, it usually begins as a small distortion at the center of vision before spreading until it obscures everything. Then it vanishes without a trace on its own. This type should affect both eyes the same way simultaneously.

Other symptoms that can happen with painless ocular migraines are temporary difficulty with motor function and speech. They can interfere with activities like reading or writing. If one comes on while driving, we strongly encourage you to pull over and wait for your vision to clear before getting back on the road. It shouldn’t take more than an hour in most cases.

Migraine With Aura

Migraine headaches may be heralded by ocular migraines in roughly 20% of people who experience them. This symptom is important to discuss with your doctor and can be a valuable warning sign for you. People with this symptom often succeed in reducing the frequency of painful migraine headaches by using it to avoid triggers like stress, certain foods, or exposure to bright light.

Retinal Migraine

The similar names can be confusing, but a retinal migraine and an ocular migraine are very different things. Unlike the often-harmless ocular migraine, a retinal migraine will only affect one eye, and it happens if blood vessels in the retina constrict and cut off a significant amount of its blood flow. A retinal migraine could come as rarely as once every few months, but you should inform your doctor if you’re experiencing them so they can determine whether they are connected to something more serious.

We Want to Hear About It If You’re Seeing Stars!

It is our honor to be your lifelong partners in vision health. As such, we want to hear about any changes you experience in your vision, even a temporary one like an ocular migraine. If any of these symptoms we’ve described sound familiar to you, schedule an appointment so we can discuss them and look for the cause. Feel free to email us with your ocular migraine questions too.

Our patients are the best anywhere!

Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.