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What Is An Ocular Migraine?

If you were to look out your window at the moment, you would probably think that it looked more like early October outside, instead of the end of November. Admittedly, the weather over the past week has been so beautiful! Just the perfect temperature to decorate the house with holiday lights! Living in Calgary, most of us are all too familiar with the Chinooks that caused this recent temperature change. And unfortunately as a result, many of us are also all too familiar with the headaches that accompany these Chinooks. Over the past week, I have had many friends and family members suffer from headaches which involve disturbances in their vision. These headaches are fairly common and are known as ocular migraines. But what is an ocular migraine? Read our blog post this week to find out!

What Is An Ocular Migraine

Ocular migraines are headaches that involve a disturbance or a “visual aura” in a person’s field of vision. The presentation of an ocular migraine often differs from person to person. Generally when someone experiences an ocular migraine, they may describe the disruption in vision or the “visual aura” as a shimmering zig-zag line, flashing lights or stars or a blind spot.

Unlike regular migraines that are associated with intense pain, head pain may or may not accompany an ocular migraine. Although, even with the absence of pain having an ocular migraine can be disabling. Having an aura or blind spot within your vision can make it hard to perform everyday tasks like writing, reading and driving.

What Causes Ocular Migraines

The exact causes of ocular migraines is unknown, but there are some risk factors and triggers that have been identified. These triggers may differ from person to person. Some contributing factors can include:

  • a family or personal history of migraines
  • hormones
  • intense lights and sounds
  • certain foods (foods high in nitrates, MSG)
  • certain drinks (caffeine, alchol)
  • stress
  • change in weather

Is An Ocular Migraine Serious

The first episode of an ocular migraine can be very scary. Ocular migraines aren’t typically considered serious. However, don’t be so quick to shrug your symptoms off. There is another type of “eye” migraine, called a retinal migraine which could be a sign of something more serious. So it’s important to make sure what you’re experiencing is an ocular migraine and not a retinal migraine.

If you experience ocular migraines, a visit to your optometrist will help you rule out that you don’t have more serious underlying problems going on. If you’re a resident of Alberta, the visit is also covered under your Alberta Health Care.

How To Treat An Ocular Migraine

Experiencing the visual aura and / or loss of vision during an ocular migraine can leave an unsettling feeling. As mentioned before, even if there’s no pain present an ocular migraine can be debilitating. The disruption in vision from an ocular migraine will typically go away within half an hour. It is recommended during the event to rest with eyes closed to in a quiet, dark room to avoid stimulation from bright lights and loud noises. Some people also find the use of over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or tylenol helpful in reducing ocular migraine symptoms.

To help minimize discomfort and symptoms during an ocular migraine episode, you can:

  • rest in a quiet, dark room
  • massage your head and neck
  • apply a damp cloth to your forehead

If you ever experience drastic vision loss, loss of vision in one eye, have a sudden onset of trouble seeing or thinking clearly, seek medical attention immediately. Also, don’t drive while visual symptoms and disturbances are present as it can be dangerous to both yourself and other people using the road. If you have concerns about your vision or eye health call our office at (403)255-2826 or book an appointment online with one of our optometrists.

Article written by: Trina Vanaalst, Licensed Optician & Contact Lens Practitioner

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