Optical Migraine Symptoms

By Elizabeth Jean

  • Overview

    Optical Migraine Symptoms
    An optical migraine, often called an ocular migraine, ophthalmic migraine or eye migraine, is a migraine in which temporary abnormalities in vision, including distortion and vision loss, take place. Not to be confused with a migraine with aura which affects both eyes, an optical migraine only affects one eye. An optical migraine often occurs without a migraine headache although an optical migraine can precede a migraine headache. An optical migraine is usually not a cause for worry, but the visual distortion symptoms can make its victim very frightened. When a person is struck by an optical migraine, daily activities, such as reading, watching television and driving, are disrupted until the optical migraine passes.
  • Causes

    The cause of an optical migraine is believed to be the constriction of blood vessels, which in turn reduces eye blood flow. Although it is not known what specifically causes an optical migraine, it is believed that eating chocolate, nuts and shellfish can bring on an optical migraine while others report caffeine and alcohol are a trigger. Although not confirmed, stress, fatigue and changes in a woman's menstrual cycle, and eye strain have been reported as possible causes. Women, people under 40 and people with a history of migraine headaches in their family are more prone to an optical migraine.
  • Blind Spots

    Often the first sign that an optical migraine is about to present itself is having one or more blind spots. Basically, you will see holes and gray areas in your vision that is especially noticeable when you try to read a book, newspaper or words on a computer monitor. The blind spot starts out in your central vision, enlarges and then moves across the field of vision.


  • Flashes of Lights

    Typically, shortly after the blind spot starts, flashes of lights can be seen in the vision. These flashes of light are called scintillations. Often these flashes of lights are multi-colored. An important thing to note about this symptom is that it can also be a symptom of retinal detachment, which is a serious medical emergency.
  • Zig-zag Patterns

    An optical migraine often presents itself by leaving zig-zag patterns in the vision. Some people describe this symptom as looking through a cracked window. Some describe these patterns as wavy lines as if looking through a window that has rain streaming down on it or looking at raindrops as they hit puddles or calm bodies of water.
  • Less Frequent Symptoms

    Spots and stars are a less frequent symptom of an optical migraine but nonetheless have been reported. At times, nausea and vomiting can be associated with an optical migraine.
  • Time Frame of Symptoms

    Most vision distortion and vision loss lasts under five minutes, however some optical migraines can last up to 20 or 30 minutes and sometimes as long as one hour. After which, the vision returns to normal.
  • Treatment

    There is no treatment for the visual distortion that occurs with an optical migraine. However, if you are one of the unlucky ones that usually gets a migraine headache after an optical migraine, then it is a good idea to take an over-the-counter or prescription migraine medicine during the optical migraine before the migraine headache sets in. It is also a good idea if you have had an ocular migraine to have your eye health examined, as an ocular migraine can cause retinal damage. On the other hand, retinal damage can cause an optical migraine so it is wise to get your eyes checked.
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