MIGRAINES AND VISION LOSS
If you are someone who suffers from migraine headaches, you may also be in the 20% of people who experience ocular migraines – often realized as a precursor to a migraine.
This is a visual distortion that occurs in both eyes for a short period of time and may develop as a series of bright flickering lights that will gradually obscure your vision and then go away.
Visual migraines often appear suddenly and may create the sensation of looking through a cracked window. The visual migraine aura usually moves across your field of view and disappears within 30 minutes.
The symptoms of a visual migraine typically affect both eyes and can last 30 minutes or less. A migraine headache may occur shortly after the symptoms of a visual migraine and subside or you may experience no headache at all.
Painless Ocular Migraine
In some cases, ocular migraines can occur without any accompanying headache. These typically involve a widening blurry patch in your vision that is surrounded by bright, flickering lights. This will gradually spread to cover the entire field of vision, taking between a few minutes to a half an hour before going away on its own.
The visual disruption may be the only symptom, but sometimes it’s accompanied by other sensory, speech, or motor problems. If you’re doing an activity or driving when an ocular migraine occurs, stop what you are doing. If one starts coming on while you’re driving, pull over until it passes, and it may be best to lie down and relax. While these ocular migraines are usually harmless, it’s a good idea to schedule an eye exam to be sure there aren’t any underlying issues with your vision.
Migraine auras include a variety of sensations that are often visual. Auras may also include other sensations, such as numbness, that precede or accompany a migraine. A migraine aura can sometimes occur without a headache.
Visual symptoms don’t last long. A migraine aura involving your vision will affect both eyes, and you may see:
- Flashes of light
- Zigzagging patterns
- Blind spots
- Shimmering spots or stars
Common migraine “triggers” that can cause a person to have a migraine attack (including ocular and visual migraines) include certain foods, such as aged cheeses, caffeinated drinks, red wine, smoked meats, and chocolate. Food additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), and artificial sweeteners also can trigger migraines in some people. Other triggers can include stress, smoking, and oral contraceptives.
The most dangerous form of ocular migraine is a retinal migraine. Like an aura accompanying a migraine, a retinal migraine will usually occur before a bad headache sets in, but the difference is that the visual distortions are only in a single eye.
A retinal migraine — unlike a migraine aura — will affect only one eye, not both. But usually, loss of vision in one eye isn’t related to migraine. It’s generally caused by some other more serious condition.
Retinal migraines are the rarest form of ocular migraine, but if you’ve experienced them, you should definitely see a doctor, because they are usually caused by a more serious condition.
If you’re experiencing a blind spot or other visual disturbance and you’re not sure if it’s an ocular migraine or a visual migraine, then cover one eye at a time. If the visual disturbance is occurring in just one eye, it’s likely that it’s an ocular migraine. If it affects both eyes, it’s probably a visual migraine.
But don’t take chances. If you suddenly experience any sort of blind spot in your field of vision, call our office at 724-443-6767 or 724-226-0444 immediately to determine if it’s harmless or possibly a sign of something more serious, such as a retinal detachment.
About Bissell Eye Care: John D. Bissell, OD owns and operates Bissell Eye Care servicing Northern Pittsburgh and Alle-Kiski Valley regions. With two locations to treat patients, we offer evening and Saturday appointments. Bissell Eye Care provides comprehensive eye examinations for the entire family beginning as early as 6 months, ocular disease detection and treatment, eyeglasses, sunglasses, activewear, contact lenses, and low vision examinations for those with significant vision loss. We accept most types of vision and health insurance plans. For more information, visit bisselleyecare.com or call our Bakerstown Office at 724-443-6767 or Natrona Heights office at 724-226-0444.