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Ocular migraines: What causes retinal migraine and treatment

Ocular migraine

Sudden flashes of light, flickering vision or black spots. Do you ever experience symptoms like this? Then you could be suffering from ocular migraines.

But what is an ocular migraine and how does it differ from a normal migraine? How dangerous is it and how can you prevent further attacks?

The experts at Lentiamo are happy to explain the background and treatment options for you.

What are the different types of migraines?

We're all familiar with migraines. They are usually associated with severe headaches that can last for hours at a time.

Often, certain symptoms signal a migraine before it happens. This is called a migraine aura. Some of these aura symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of an ocular migraine. For example, many migraine sufferers have visual disturbances before they get a severe headache.

An ocular migraine is very different from a migraine with aura. In most cases, an ocular migraine lasts only a few minutes and is limited to symptoms in the eye, usually without a headache. An ocular migraine is therefore also called an ophthalmic migraine.

A subtype of ocular migraine is retinal migraine. This type of migraine affects the retina and can be recognised by the fact that it only occurs in one eye.

Can I wear my glasses or contact lenses if I have an ocular migraine?

You can wear contacts if you have an ocular migraine. However, try not to put extra strain on your eyes during an attack and try to give them some rest. Of course, you can also wear your glasses when you have an ocular migraine as well.

If you feel better when using eye drops, then you can also use them without any problems during an ocular migraine.

What causes ocular migraines?

The exact causes of ocular migraines are not yet fully understood. However, a circulatory disorder in the eye and spasms of the blood vessels in the retina are suspected. As a result, important areas in the eye that are responsible for vision are no longer supplied with a sufficient supply of blood and oxygen.

It is also suspected that nerve weakness can lead to ocular migraines. The nerve pathways are disturbed and thus vision is impaired.

Ocular migraines can also be influenced by genetic factors and are often triggered by stimuli, or so-called triggers.

What triggers ocular migraines?

As mentioned above, migraines are often triggered by stimuli. Therefore, it is worthwhile to get to the bottom of the cause. Some of these triggers could be:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Hormonal changes
  • Very strong, bright light
  • Change in the weather
  • Strong fragrances, such as perfume
Finding out what caused your migraine can be time-consuming, but it's worth it! If you can avoid your trigger, then further migraines can be prevented.

What are the symptoms of ocular migraines?

The symptoms of ocular migraines are distinct from other migraines. With ocular migraines, the symptoms are mainly visual. Mild headaches and dizziness occur only in rare cases. Typical symptoms of an ocular migraine are:

  • Flashes of light
  • Flickering
  • Shimmering spots
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Visual field limitations

Flickering can also be perceived when the eyes are closed, as it is of nerve origin.

In an ocular migraine, the symptoms occur in both eyes. If you only notice symptoms on one side, then it could be a retinal eye migraine. With retinal migraine, you suffer from visual field loss. Depending on how badly the blood flow is disturbed, you may even be affected by temporary blindness. Mild headaches are often a side effect.

Pay attention to flashing lights! Flashes of light can also be symptoms of other eye diseases. In some cases, it is necessary to act quickly when you notice flashes of light, such as in the case of a retinal detachment. In the case of an ocular migraine, it is therefore advisable to consult an ophthalmologist to rule out other diseases.

What are the treatment options for ocular migraines?

Flickering or flashing in the eyes can be worrying. It's easy to wonder if it's something as serious as a stroke or retinal detachment.

In most cases, however, an ocular migraine is completely harmless and the symptoms disappear on their own. You don't need to take any medication. Only in a few cases are additional painkillers administered.

In the case of retinal migraines, the concerns are well-founded, as there is a small risk of secondary damage to the retina.

If you are affected by an ocular migraine for the first time, it is advisable to see an ophthalmologist to make sure that it is really "only" an ocular migraine and not another disease. Your doctor will do this by looking at the back of your eye with a slit lamp to determine the health of your eye.

What can I do at home to treat ocular migraines?

If you suffer from ocular migraines, we advise you to get some rest and ideally stay in a darkened room. Take some time and relax until the symptoms have subsided.

Cooling cloths or compresses on your eyes can also help to relieve symptoms more quickly.

Also try to find the above-mentioned trigger for your ocular migraine to prevent further attacks.

What is bad about migraines during pregnancy?

It is not uncommon for the first attack of a migraine or migraine aura to occur during pregnancy. Symptoms typically include bright visual zigzags emanating from a small bright spot. These then disappear again and are no cause for concern.

Other visual disturbances can occur during pregnancy. The first thing a woman should do is see her obstetrician or doctor if this happens. In two to five percent of pregnant women, eyes can be adversely affected. During visiual disturbances, the expectant mother's blood pressure may rise dangerously so it is very important to consult a doctor. In addition to the visual disturbances, the face can also swell. So utmost caution is needed at this time than in the case of a "normal" attack.

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Want to know more? Read the Lentiamo guide on eye diseases to learn about conditions such as swollen eyelids.