The ABCs of Ocular Migraines
Migraine sufferers, we see you (hiding in a darkened room with a pillow over your head). We hear you (crying). We feel you (begging for mercy). And we want to help.
Migraines are the worst. They’re up there with root canals and income tax audits. One of the hardest things about migraines is determining the root cause, which is different for different people and identifying the individual triggers that bring one on in the first place.
Many people don’t know it but migraines can actually impact vision. When this occurs, it’s called an ocular migraine.
What’s an Ocular Migraine?
The term “ocular migraine” can be confusing. It generally means a headache that’s accompanied by changes in vision which may include blind spots, changes in light perception, wiggly lines and flashing lights. As many as 20 percent of migraine sufferers may experience these “aura” symptoms.
It is generally accepted that there are two types of ocular migraines:
- Migraine with Aura. This type of migraine impairs vision, with symptoms like flashes of light, blind spots, seeing stars or patterns and other visual issues that go away after a short period. Migraine aura can occur with headache or without, and is typically short in duration. Migraine with Aura occurs in 25-30 percent of people with migraine, and less than 20% of individuals with migraine visual aura have the aura phase with every migraine attack.
- Retinal Migraine refers to visual symptoms that occur in only one eye before or during the headache phase of a migraine. Retinal Migraine symptoms tend to be more intrusive than aura symptoms, and can include decreased vision, flashing lights and even temporary blindness. It can be difficult for people to distinguish between Migraine with Aura and Retinal Migraine, so it’s important to consult a doctor if you think you may be experiencing Retinal Migraine symptoms.
What Causes an Ocular Migraine?
Exactly what causes ocular migraines is not known, but a personal or family history of migraines is a known risk factor. Most doctors agree that ocular migraines have the same causes as classic migraine. They include:
- Genetics – A family history of migraine or ocular migraine increases your chance of having them.
- Hormones – Migraines have been linked to the hormone estrogen. In women, hormones can fluctuate due to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause. Hormone levels are also affected by oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies.
- Triggers – Some people know exactly what triggers a migraine for them but research shows it is likely the combination of factors that trigger a migraine. They can include stress, lack of sleep, weather change, alcohol, caffeine and certain foods.
Can Poor Vision Trigger a Migraine?
If you have poor vision, you may squint a lot (whether you know it or not) or hold items up close or far away from your face in order to see them clearly. This can have a negative impact on your vision over time. You could also strain your eyes by reading in poor lighting. When your eyes are constantly straining to see properly, it could trigger a migraine. Having a comprehensive eye exam by a trusted eye doctor is one step you can take to make sure poor vision is one less thing that could trigger a migraine for you.
Additionally, there are eye conditions that can trigger migraines including glaucoma. Glaucoma causes the pressure to build up in the eye and damage the optic nerve. In order to relieve these migraines, the conditions must be treated.
Comprehensive Eye Care for the Whole Family
Eye Medical Clinic has both optometrists and ophthalmologists on our experienced team of eye specialists. We have proudly served the Bay Area for more than 70 years and we are fully equipped to care for the eye needs of the youngest member of your family to the most senior member. We’d love to talk to you about your migraines as they relate to your vision and see how we can help.
We invite you to experience our expert eye care for every generation at Eye Medical Clinic. Our team, including experienced doctors John Sullivan, MD; Mona Bagga, MD and Christina Nguyen Deane, OD, as well as a highly trained and dedicated staff, is dedicated to helping you enjoy your life to the fullest…with the clear vision, you deserve. Schedule your comprehensive eye exam today.