Ocular migraines, sometimes called retinal migraines, are a somewhat rare, yet alarming condition that often causes temporary vision loss or potentially temporary blindness in one eye. A lot of ocular migraines are caused by or related to a reduced blood flow in the blood vessels that feed the important retina at the back of the eye.

Most ocular migraine sufferers will notice their vision gradually starting to return in the affected eye for 45-minutes to an hour. Though some ocular migraines may take longer. Some ocular migraine incidents are relatively painless, though many occur in conjunction with a migraine headache.

Unfortunately, the term “Ocular Migraine” is sometimes used to describe other conditions such as “Visual Migraine” or a “Migraine Aura” which are different conditions and typically have different treatment strategies.

The Difference Between A Visual Migraine & An Ocular Migraine

In the case of a Visual Migraine, the individual often experiences temporary vision disturbances that distinctly affect both eyes, rather than one eye. Visual Migraines also tend to be relatively shorter than ocular migraines with most lasting 20 minutes or less.

It’s when we take a closer look at the differences between ocular migraines, which are also known as “Retinal Migraines” and visual migraines, or “Migraine Auras” we start to see even more differences in the symptoms.

Symptoms Of An Ocular Migraine

Individuals who suffer from an Ocular Migraine often report symptoms including a small blind spot, known as a “Scotoma” that affects the central vision in a single eye. Many ocular migraine sufferers report that the blind spot seems to gets larger, which ultimately makes it impossible for them to things like drive safely or read a book using the affected eye.

In the case of a severe ocular migraine, it is possible for the entire visual field of the affected to be obscured. This distressing exacerbation of the symptom can sometimes last up to an hour.

Symptoms Of A Visual Migraine

With a visual migraine, the symptoms tend to affect both eyes rather than just one. Many visual migraine sufferers report the rapid onset of symptoms that makes it seem as if they are viewing the world through a cracked window. As the sensation progresses this altered “Migraine Aura” can start to move around in their field of view.

Some visual migraine sufferers also report additional symptoms such as:

  • A strange flickering blind spot that affects the central field of view
  • Wavy lines or zigzag rings of broken colored light that surrounds the central blind spot
  • The blind spot gradually start to migrate across the visual field

With most visual migraines the symptoms generally abate in 20 to 30 minutes or less. Some patients report feeling a headache, while others report no headache distress of any kind.

Telling The Difference Between An Ocular Migraine & A Visual Migraine

If you haven’t experienced one of these visual phenomena in the past, it can be hard to differentiate which type of migraine you are dealing with.

As a general guideline, if you are experiencing a visual disturbance in one eye that spreads and lasts more than 20 or 30 minutes, it is most likely an ocular migraine.

If the visual disturbance starts to affect both eyes, and it moves through your field of vision, with a duration of 30 minutes or less, then you are most likely dealing with a visual migraine.

What Causes Ocular Migraines & Visual Migraines?

It can be difficult to completely identify the specific causes of ocular migraines. Like a more traditional migraine headache, there are genetic factors, and many people who suffer ocular migraines also have a family history of them.
It is speculated that these migraines are caused by the activation of a mechanism deep within the brain that releases pain-producing inflammatory substances near blood vessels and sensitive nerves and in the cranium.

This in turn has an effect on the blood flow to the brain during an ocular migraine episode which essentially triggers the individual to have a migraine attack in the form of an ocular migraine or a visual migraine.

Can Diet Cause Ocular Migraines?

Certain foods have been shown to increase an individual’s risk of suffering an ocular migraine or migraine headache. This includes things like

  • Aged cheese
  • Smoked meats
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Processed food additives like MSG
  • Artificial sweeteners

Lifestyle Factors That Increase The Risk Of Ocular Migraines

A growing body of research has found a link between an increased risk of ocular migraines and migraine headaches associated with certain lifestyle habits. This includes things like:

  • Smoking
  • Wearing a heavy amount of cologne or perfume
  • Exposure to bright or flickering lights
  • Chronic stress
  • Frequent lack of sleep

How Are Ocular Migraines Treated?

Most cases of ocular migraines and visual migraines see the visual disturbances dissipate within 30 to 60 minutes. With time and rest are all that is needed to treat the symptoms. If you happen to be performing a visually intensive task such as driving, you may need to pull over and park somewhere safe until the symptoms of ocular or visual migraine pass.

When Should I See A Doctor About Ocular Or Visual Migraine Symptoms?

The larger concern here is that these symptoms might be part of a different and more dangerous condition called an eye stroke, or a possible detached retina. If you have started to experience symptoms of a visual migraine or an ocular migraine, it’s best to contact your physician or an eye doctor as soon as possible to assess the situation.

Can Ocular Migraines Be Prevented?

While underlying genetics seem to be a major factor, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risks of suffering an ocular migraine. This starts with keeping a daily journal of your general diet and activities. This might later be used to help identify the primary triggers causing your visual or ocular migraine symptoms.

This includes tracking things like

  • Stress-related events
  • Nightly hours of sleep
  • Eating a healthful diet
  • Lifestyle habits like smoking
  • Exposure to distressing visual stimuli

Anytime you have a migraine, note it in the journal. As time goes on, you can assess the information to help you better identify the underlying triggers that put you at increased risk of suffering an ocular migraine.