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Ocular Migraines

What is an ocular migraine?

A classic migraine headache starts with an aura, followed by a headache that can be associated with nausea, sensitivity to lights and fatigue. The aura, which is likely caused by spasm of a blood vessel in the brain, usually consists of flashing or shimmering multi-colored lights or jagged lightening-like lines. These symptoms often are seen with both eyes although they usually start off to one side. They gradually get larger over several minutes to a half hour, and then resolve when the headache begins. An ocular (ophthalmic, retinal) migraine involves just this visual aura without the following headache.

A posterior vitreous detachment, retinal break or retinal detachment can cause flashing lights as well. However, unlike the visual symptoms found with ocular migraines, they appear more as isolated white lights like a flash bulb, occur only in one eye, and are associated with other symptoms such as floaters.

What causes ocular migraine?

The causes of migraines and ocular migraines are not certain, but include various environmental and genetic factors. They can be triggered by hormonal fluctuations, foods (sulfites, monosodium glutamate), stress, bright lights, and medications (vasodilators, birth control pills).

How are ocular migraines treated?

The migraine itself almost never needs to be treated since the visual symptoms resolve on their own within minutes. If they occur frequently and are very symptomatic, they are treated with various migraine medications that are best prescribed by the patient’s family doctor or neurologist.