Ocular Migraines

Nutrients   Symptoms   Causes   Self help discussion   Treatment

Ocular migraine can be described as a related group of conditions, all affecting vision, usually temporarily, and usually caused by a spasm in or obstruction of one of the tiny blood vessels associated with vision. They are distinguished from each other by the symptoms and duration.

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  • Ocular migraine, retinal migraine, ophthalmic migraine or visual migraine usually occurs in only one eye and is caused by the sudden constriction (spasm) or blockage behind or in an eye. The patient may also experience a migraine headache, light sensitivity or nausea. The loss of vision in one eye makes it difficult to do close visual work and dangerous to drive. This type of migraine is generally of short duration, an hour or less.

  • A common variation is a scintillating scotoma which is caused by a spasm or spreading wave of spasm of the blood vessel or other behavior of the nerves located at the back of the head which supplies blood to the eyes. Scintillating means sparkling or shining, and a scotoma is a partial loss of vision. So the experience of the patient is sparkling or flickering lights, dots, wavy lines, zig zags, arcs, camouflage patterns, or blurry areas - toward the periphery of vision, or in some cases, off to one side. Typically, the visual disturbance lasts about 15 - 20 minutes before disappearing. A mild headache might follow the visual effect. Many patients only notice tiredness after this type of migraine goes away.

    ocular migraine
  • A migraine headache results in moderate to severe headache and lasts for 4 to 72 hours with a number of connected symptoms. It may be tied to family genetic traits and triggered by certain foods, stress, or environmental factors that affect the proper functioning of the cerebral cortex.


Symptoms can be quite varied and related to possible underlying problems.

Retinal migraine symptoms include:

  • Vision loss in one eye lasting less than one hour.
  • Possible migraine headache
  • Light sensitivity

Scintillating scotoma symptoms include:

  • A blank spot in the visual field
  • Flickering, shimmering white or colored lights in the periphery of vision
  • Zig zag lines in the visual field
  • Blurred area of vision, mostly around the periphery, as though you are looking at heat waves rising off hot pavement.

Note: "Regular" migraines appear to occur due to constriction and dilation of fine arteries in the head and can be intensely painful. The pain often stays on one side of the head, and might be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

However, Glaucoma: Acute (narrow) angle-closure:

  • This is an ocular emergency - see your doctor right away
  • Intense headache often centralized over brow
  • Glare or halos around lights
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

If an ocular migraine is followed by a one-sided headache that throbs, it is called a "migraine with aura."

Causes of Ocular Migraines

Some scientists think that ocular (visual) migraines are caused by or triggered by inflammatory substances released in the tissues surrounding the circulatory and nerve system of the head and brain.

Ocular migraines may be due to stress and fatigue - the same probable causes of migraine headaches. Learn more about migraine headaches, computer eye-fatigue. These related causes can include improper glasses and other conditions such as hypertension, sinus conditions, tumors, hormonal changes, certain foods such as alcohol, aged cheese, MSG or chocolate, or other allergies rather than due to problems related to the eyes.

However, while scientists are not sure exactly what causes ocular migraines, they do appear to be tied to blood vessel spasms in the retina, or in the back of the eye in the vessels that supply the retina with blood. They may be due to other changes in the optic nerve.

An ocular migraine can appear simultaneously with a migraine headache.

Conventional Treatment

Ocular migraines tend to go away after a few minutes to an hour and generally treatment is not needed. However, if you have them repeatedly it will be a good idea to have an exam. Normal practice is for a medical doctor to get your complete medical history and give you a thorough physical exam to rule out causes of the headache from other physical conditions. An ophthalmologist can verify that eye-related problems are not contributing to the condition.

Similarly, if you have frequent migraine headaches, you should talk to your health care professional.

Self Help

Diet, Nutrition & Lifestyle Choices

  • Be sure to also read our lifestyle recommendations for migraine headaches.
  • See our essential vision wellness tips for this eye condition.
  • Stress. Manage stress - meditate, take cool walks in the morning, do yoga ... whatever works well for you.
  • Computer. Avoid long hours on the computer and take frequent breaks.
  • Exercise regularly, at least 3x weekly. Exercise reduces the amount of pain from migraines although it does not directly stop migraines by itself.
  • Pay attention to what you eat in the event that the ocular migraines are tied to an allergy.
  • Sleep routine. Wake up at the same time each morning, and get plenty of sleep at night
  • Finally, acupuncture is worth considering.

Related Condition

  • Migraine headaches. While migraine headaches are often confused with ocular migraines, and the causes are similar, the migraine headache involves pain on one side of the head sometimes with nausea and does not typically include visual ocular migraine symptoms. Conversely, an ocular migraine may sometimes include a migraine headache.