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Ocular migraine: triggers and symptoms

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What is an ocular migraine?

An ocular migraine also referred to as a retinal or optical migraine is a condition that affects your eyes, although more commonly only one eye is affected at one time. This type of migraine causes a temporary loss of vision or visual issues. These visual migraine episodes tend to last for a short time anywhere from a few seconds to an hour, or you may experience symptoms for a day. After the attack your eyesight should go back to normal.

What causes an ocular migraine?

Ocular migraines are caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the eye with blood, this constriction happens suddenly and reduces the amount of blood the eye receives. After the attack the blood vessels around your eyes relax, the normal blood flow resumes and your sight goes back to normal.

Ocular migraine symptoms

In most cases the same eye is affected each time that you experience an ocular migraine, however symptoms can differ slightly.

Symptoms of an ocular migraine can include:

  • A headache that happens before, during or after the change in your vision occurs, this may be felt behind the eye that is experiencing the vision disruption
  • Visual changes such as flashing lights, zig zag patterns, diagonal lines or halos
  • Temporary visual loss in one eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Blank areas and black dots within your vision

Many people can have ocular migraines without experiencing any pain behind their eyes or a headache. However if you do experience a headache this can be felt at any time before, during or after the change in your vision occurs. You might find that the headache also occurs behind the left or right eye depending on which one is having vision issues.

Ocular migraine triggers

Ocular migraines can be triggered by a number of factors, including lifestyle choices and environmental influences. The precise cause of your ocular migraines can be difficult to pinpoint, however you may notice a pattern start to appear dependent on the activities you complete or the food you eat, for example if you skipped a meal you could experience an ocular migraine.

Common triggers of ocular migraines include:

  • Stress – take time out of your day to relax and unwind, this might be having a bath before bed or finding a quiet place in the office to complete your work
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking – this habit negatively impacts your health and affects many aspects of your body
  • Exercise
  • Low blood sugar – making sure that you are eating regular meals will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady
  • Hormonal contraceptive pills
  • Excessive heat – make sure that you feel comfortable, open a window or place a fan next to your desk, do whatever you need to do to keep your body at a regular temperature
  • Dehydration – it’s recommend that we drink 6-8 glasses of water a day as water is needed for our body to function properly
  • Bending over
  • High altitude

Can dehydration cause an ocular migraine?

Yes, not drinking enough water or eating regularly can cause your blood sugar to become low which in turn can cause you to have an ocular migraine. Retinal migraines are caused by the blood vessels that support the eye suddenly narrowing; this restricts the blood flow to your eye.

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Can ocular migraines cause blindness?

Ocular migraines can cause blindness, however this is usually temporary and can last from a few seconds to an hour. You might also experience other symptoms such as flashing lights within your field of vision or black dots.

Ocular migraine treatment

Treatment for ocular migraines tends to focus on trigger avoidance; once you know what brings on a migraine you can try to eliminate these factors. For example if you have an attack when you’re tired, you should try to get enough sleep each night or fit a nap in during the day.

You can also use over the counter medication such as aspirin to reduce the pain and inflammation. Aspirin can also help to alleviate headaches or any discomfort you are feeling around the affected eye. Once the condition has been diagnosed by your GP you may be prescribed a number of medications such as beta blockers to help relax your blood vessels.