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What’s an Ocular Migraine?

woman with Ocular Migraine holding her headOcular migraines, also known as visual migraines, are sudden, temporary episodes of visual distortion — and can be quite scary if you’ve never experienced one before.

There are two different types of ocular migraines: migraine auras and retinal migraines.

If you experience regular migraines, contact us at Grand Developmental Vision Institute in Winnipeg, as we can help reduce or prevent episodes of ocular migraines.

What Is a Migraine Aura?

Migraine auras are quite common, affecting 1 in 5 migraine sufferers.

A migraine aura causes sudden, temporary vision distortions just prior to or during a migraine. It typically lasts around 30 minutes.

These visual distortions may include:

  • Flashes of light
  • Blind spots
  • Glittering “stars”
  • Zigzagging lines
  • Psychedelic images

A migraine aura can also result in physical symptoms, such as:

  • Numbness or tingling in the body
  • Changes in taste, smell or sense of touch
  • Brain fog

If you experience a migraine aura, it is best to stop what you’re doing, sit down and close your eyes until it passes.

What Is a Retinal Migraine?

Retinal migraines are rare, affecting 1 in 200 migraine sufferers.

Retinal migraines cause repeated temporary episodes of blindness in just one eye. Most people experiencing a retinal migraine report that their vision suddenly becomes very blurry, or that there is a partial or complete “blackening out” of their vision. These episodes can last anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes and can occur prior to or during a migraine headache.

Vision loss in one eye is always a sign that needs to be taken seriously and requires urgent medical care.

What Causes Ocular Migraines?

Unfortunately, though most agree that genetics play a significant role in predisposing some individuals to ocular migraines, researchers have yet to discover if any one specific stimulus directly causes them.

Some researchers believe that changes within the retinal nerves or blood vessels in the back of the eye can stimulate an ocular migraine.

However, most doctors believe that the same factors known to trigger classic migraines can also trigger ocular migraines:

  • Excessive loud noise
  • Bright lights
  • Strong [odors]
  • Prolonged periods of stress
  • Binocular vision problems
  • Eye strain
  • An increase in the estrogen hormone
  • Weather changes/fluctuations in barometer
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Foods containing nitrates, MSG or tyramine
  • Genetic predisposition

How Can a Neuro-Optometrist Help?

If you suffer from ocular migraines, we at Grand Developmental Vision Institute can help you uncover what may be triggering your migraines and provide you with the most effective treatment plan.

If a binocular vision problem such as binocular visual dysfunction (BVD), convergence insufficiency (CI) or difficulties with focusing, eye tracking or eye teaming is causing your ocular migraines, we can devise a customized program of neuro-optometric rehabilitation to improve your visual function and treat your symptoms at their source.

We can also discuss different lifestyle changes that could help you reduce or prevent bouts of ocular migraines, thereby improving your quality of life.

Contact Grand Developmental Vision Institute today to schedule an appointment. Grand Developmental Vision Institute offers neuro-optometric rehabilitation therapy to patients from Winnipeg, Selkirk, Portage La Prairie, and Brandon, Manitoba and surrounding communities.

Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Matthew Anderson

Q: Can a vision problem trigger headaches, including migraines?

  • A: Yes. A binocular vision problem caused by even the slightest misalignment of the eyes can place extra strain on the eye muscles in an effort to produce clear vision. This often leads to headaches, even migraines. Convergence insufficiency and accommodative dysfunction are two binocular vision problems that can have been shown to cause or exacerbate migraines and other headaches.

Q: How do I know if my headaches are vision-related?

  • A: The only way to know with certainty that your headaches stem from a vision problem is through a comprehensive eye exam. Be sure to inform your eye doctor if you recently suffered a concussion or brain injury. Many vision problems caused by a brain injury can be effectively treated with neuro-optometric rehabilitation therapy.

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