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Ocular Migraine: Symptoms, Triggers, and Treatment


4 min


Ocular migraine

Ocular migraines, also known by various other names such as visual and retinal migraines, present a distinctive array of symptoms that set them apart from other types of migraines. Ocular migraines are characterised by visual disturbances, but they can also induce a variety of additional symptoms that can greatly interfere with day-to-day functioning.

What is Ocular Migraine?

Firstly, what exactly is an ocular migraine? Unlike typical migraines that primarily appear as headaches, ocular migraines involve visual disturbances. These disturbances can vary from flashing lights, blind spots, zigzag patterns, to temporary vision loss in one eye. While the symptoms might be alarming, they usually resolve within 20 to 30 minutes without leaving any lasting damage to the eyes.

Ocular Migraine Symptoms

Ocular migraines typically occur in phases, with each phase presenting unique symptoms:

  1. Prodrome Phase: Some individuals experience warning signs before the onset of visual disturbances. These can include: mood changes, fatigue, or food cravings.
  2. Aura Phase: This phase is characterized by the visual disturbances themselves, which can range from shimmering lights, zigzag patterns, to blind spots. These disturbances might spread gradually across the visual field before dissipating.

    These visual disturbances can include:
    – Flashes of light
    – Zigzag pattern
    – Blind spots or areas of decreased vision
    Tunnel vision
    – Temporary partial or complete loss of vision in one eye

  3. Headache Phase: Not all ocular migraines are followed by headaches, but when they are, this phase involves the typical symptoms of migraines, such as throbbing head pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. This phase can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. This headache typically affects only one side of the head, though in some cases, it may affect the entire head. Described as moderately to severely painful, the headache tends to throb or pulsate and gets worse when you move.

Other symptoms could also include nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that occur in conjunction with ocular migraines. These symptoms can further contribute to the discomfort and debilitation experienced during an episode.

Ocular Migraine Triggers

Identifying triggers is crucial for managing ocular migraines. Although each person’s triggers are unique, frequent offenders include:

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  1. Stress: Emotional or physical stress can trigger migraines in susceptible individuals. Practicing stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can help mitigate this trigger.
  2. Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in estrogen levels, particularly in women, can contribute to migraine onset. Monitoring menstrual cycles and hormone variations can help you see trends and take preventative action.
  3. Certain Foods: Processed foods, aged cheeses, caffeine, and alcohol are known triggers for some individuals. Migraine frequency can be lowered by eating a balanced diet and avoiding trigger foods.
  4. Environmental Factors: Bright lights, strong odors, or changes in weather patterns can precipitate ocular migraines. Wearing sunglasses outdoors, using tinted screens or filters on electronic devices, and minimizing exposure to strong odors can help mitigate these triggers.
  5. Sleep Disturbances: Lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns can increase the risk of migraines. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and addressing any underlying sleep disorders can improve better sleep quality and reduce the likelihood of migraines.
ocular migraine symptoms

Treatment Options

Managing ocular migraines involves a multi-faceted approach that may include:

  1. Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with symptoms during an attack. For more severe cases, prescription medications like triptans may be recommended.
  2. Lifestyle Modifications: Identifying and avoiding triggers is paramount. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, managing stress through relaxation techniques or therapy, and adopting a healthy diet can all help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
  3. Visual Aids: During an episode, closing your eyes and resting in a quiet, dark room can provide relief. Some individuals find relief by applying cold compresses to the forehead or neck.
  4. Prescription Medications: In some cases, preventive medications such as beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, or antidepressants may be prescribed to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.


Ocular migraines, with their distinctive visual disturbances, can be managed effectively. Understanding the symptoms and identifying triggers—such as stress, hormonal changes, certain foods, environmental factors, and sleep disturbances—are key to reducing their impact. If you experience ocular migraines, consult a healthcare professional to develop a personalized plan.

Can I have visual migraine without a headache?

Yes, it’s possible to experience visual migraines without a headache. These are often referred to as “ocular migraines” or “migraine auras.”

Can ocular migraines cause permanent vision loss?

Ocular migraines typically do not cause permanent vision loss. The visual disturbances associated with ocular migraines, such as flashing lights, blind spots, or temporary vision loss, are usually temporary and resolve within 20 to 30 minutes.

Are ocular migraines a sign of a more serious medical condition?

While ocular migraines themselves are generally not considered dangerous, they can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as transient ischemic attack (TIA).

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