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Let’s Talk About Ocular (Eye) Migraines

Let’s Talk About Ocular (Eye) Migraines

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By Dr. Donald McCormack, MD
Ophthalmologist

The purpose of this post is to define the difference between “classic” and ocular migraines. Also, before I launch into specifics, I would like to start with this:

Flashing lights in your eyes can be concerning, as they can be a sign of retinal detachment or other retinal problems. It is essential to see an ophthalmologist if you have flashing in your eyes. An eye exam can reveal problems with the vitreous fluid, the retina, or even signs of a stroke.

Now, let’s talk about migraines. This blog talks about two types:

“Classic” Migraines are thought to be caused by spasm of blood vessels in the brain. If this happens in the temple area, the result can be a severe, one-sided headache, sound sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting.

If, on the other hand, the spasm of blood vessels occurs in the back of the brain where vision is processed, this could be an Ocular or Eye Migraine. This condition can be one cause of visual disturbances that often do not need treatment. However, it’s still essential to have a complete eye evaluation to rule out more serious causes.

Symptoms vary from patient to patient or even from one episode to the next. Signs can involve shimmering light, heat-wave effects, jagged black and silver arcs, white-out areas, or blank patches. Often the visual symptoms last between 5 and 60 minutes and can change during this period. Anxiety and mild disorientation are also common during the episodes. Also, a mild headache that lasts several hours can occur. It’s common for patients to have two or three episodes within a short number of days, then have no symptoms for months.

Ocular Migraine Triggers and Treatments

Triggers of ocular migraines can include caffeine, chocolate, red wine, blue cheese, nuts, and processed meats. Stress or release of tension, bright lights, and exercise can also be triggers.

Treatments are often unnecessary because the visual disturbance only lasts for a short time, and the headaches aren’t severe. Some people find that taking an aspirin at the onset of their symptoms can prevent the headache altogether. While caffeine can cause eye migraines in some people, for others sipping a small amount of a caffeinated beverage can stop the symptoms.

It is important to stop driving if you experience any visual effects. If these symptoms last more than an hour, this can be a sign of something more serious, and you should seek medical attention immediately.


About Dr. Donald McCormack

As an ophthalmologist, Dr. McCormack diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, prescribes eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems, and performs a wide range of clinical procedures and more complicated eye surgeries. He has special interests in treatments for dry eyes and glaucoma and has been a principal investigator in numerous clinical research trials for these conditions.


This article is not intended to substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician.

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