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Ocular Migraines and Migraine Auras

Of those who report having migraines, one of out every five experience a visual aura. This may be an ocular migraine or a visual migraine. An “ocular migraine” is used interchangeably to refer to two different conditions:  migraine aura—or visual migraine—and retinal migraine.


An ocular migraine is sometimes used as an alternate name for a retinal migraine. This is characterized by temporary vision loss in one eye. Usually, vision is back to normal within an hour. Ocular migraines can have no pain associated with them or can occur with, or following, a migraine headache. Retinol migraine causes are not certain. The condition is rare, but experts believe they may be caused by reduced blood flow to the lining in the back of the eye. Usually, the vision loss is not related to a migraine. It’s usually caused by a more serious condition.


Optical Migraine Triggers

Many migraine sufferers can identify individual triggers for their migraines, but research has shown that it is more likely to be a combination of triggers that can bring on a migraine. Each person is different, but some common factors that may trigger migraines are:

  • Bright lights
  • Loud sounds
  • Strong smells
  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol
  • Foods containing MSG, such as fast foods, spices, and seasonings


If you suffer from migraines, you can try to identify your triggers by keeping a headache diary.


Migraine Aura Symptoms vs. Ocular Migraine Symptoms

Ocular migraine symptoms include a small blind spot that affects vision in just one eye. This blind spot can grow larger and larger, which might result in temporary vision loss. This is different than a visual migraine. In a visual migraine, you might notice a flickering blind spot, a wavy ring of light, or a blind spot that moves across the visual field. Sometimes this is called a migraine aura, and it usually affects both eyes.


Some migraine sufferers experience an aura before a migraine sets in. This aura can appear between 10 and 30 minutes before a migraine sets in. Ocular migraines can include some or all of these symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Numbness and tingling in the hands and face
  • Feeling foggy
  • Blind spots, shimmering spots, flashing lights, or wavy lines in the vision
  • Disrupted sense of smell, taste, or touch


Because the term ocular migraine is often used to describe the more common migraine aura or visual migraine, there has been some confusion as to what an ocular migraine is. If your vision is affected in only one eye, then you might be suffering from an ocular migraine. If you are not sure if you are suffering from an ocular migraine or a visual migraine, cover one eye at a time to determine if the visual disturbance is affecting only one eye or both. If you experience any sort of visual disturbance, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor immediately to determine if it’s something harmless like a visual migraine or something more serious.

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