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Can Migraines Affect Your Vision

What Do Visual Disturbances Look Like

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  • Black spots, threads, wiggly lines that float across your vision. We call these floaters. This visual disturbance can occur with or without flashes of light.
  • Patches of shimmering light or flashing lights.
  • Psychedelic colours, distorted colours and shapes, or kaleidoscope vision.
  • Zig-zag patterns or dark spots in your vision.

These are all associated with visual aura of migraine.

Ocular Migraine Vs Retinal Migraine

People may use the terms ocular migraine and retinal migraine to mean the same thing, but there are some important differences. An ocular migraine generally occurs in both eyes. A retinal migraine is rare and tends to occur in just one eye, when vessels that supply the eye with blood narrow. It usually lasts about 10 to 20 minutes and sometimes up to an hour. Symptoms are similar to ocular migraine and may also include complete, temporary vision loss in one eye.

Once the retinal migraine passes, blood vessels open back up and your vision returns to normal. Its a good idea to have retinal migraines checked out by a doctor to make sure symptoms are not signaling a more serious problem.

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The visual cues are hard to ignore: shimmering or flashing lights, zigzagging lines or stars, black spots. All make it difficult to read, write, or drive. If you experience these symptoms, youre most likely having an ocular migraine. It can occur with or without the pain of a migraine headache.

For people prone to migraines, one of every five has this visual aura before the headache pain begins. An ocular migraine by itself lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and isnt considered a serious condition.

Headache specialist Richard Kim, MD, describes a migraine with aura.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

What is a migraine with aura?

Although some doctors think ocular migraines are caused by the same factors that create classic migraines, no one knows for certain. Ocular migraines seem to run in families. They have been linked to estrogen, a female hormone that fluctuates during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, or with use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapies.

Most ocular and retinal migraines dont require treatment.

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When Should You Worry About An Ocular Migraine

Although the symptoms of ocular migraines can be frightening, the condition is harmless and short-lived in most cases. However, ocular migraines can indicate serious health problems, such as increased risk for stroke or severe carotid artery disease.

Its essential to see an eye doctor when you lose your eyesight suddenly for the first time or if your eyesight deteriorates to check for any serious conditions.

What Are The Symptoms Of Visual Disturbance

How Headaches Can Affect Your Vision
  • Flashes of light
  • These may start in the periphery of your sight, and become larger and more central
  • They may be black and white or brightly coloured
  • Typically described as a zigzagging pattern, or giving the appearance of shards of glass
  • They may be apparent when your eyes are shut
  • The disturbance affects your sight and both eyes are affected.
  • There is no headache during the disturbance
  • The visual disturbance last around 20-30 minutes
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    What To Do About Migraines And Vision Problems

    There are a number of things you can do about migraine, from taking medication to avoiding certain triggers. If you have frequent migraines, its best to see a doctor to learn more about what might be causing them and what your doctor recommends for treatment.

    Some of the symptoms associated with retinal migraines might actually be symptoms of a more serious problem with your eyes. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are two conditions that can cause sudden vision loss in one eye. If you experience these symptoms, you should see an eye doctor as soon as possible to rule out these kinds of eye diseases.

    Are you experiencing trouble with your vision or eye pain? Were here to help. Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor today.

    Can I Have A Visual Migraine Without A Headache

    Definitely. It is actually very common to have a visual migraine without any headache. The medical term for this is acephalgic migraine, which literally means migraine symptoms without headache. Except for the absence of a headache, the visual symptoms in acephalgic migraine are identical to the episodes that accompany a classic migraine aura.

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    How To Address Chronic Eye Strain & Headaches

    When long-lasting eye strain leads to chronic headaches, it can be very disruptive to your daily life.

    Fortunately, eye strain does not cause permanent damage or injury to the eye, and the condition can often be treated relatively easily. By making simple changes to your working, reading, and driving environments, you can likely address the issues that are straining your eyes and causing headaches.

    AAO offers these tips to address chronic eye strain:

    • Confirm your glasses or contacts are the correct prescription for your vision needs.
    • Use sunglasses when outside in bright light.
    • Use artificial tears to address dry eyes..
    • Adjust your computer screen so you must gaze slightly downward at it.
    • Use a humidifier to improve dry air quality.
    • Wear computer glasses to reduce the impact of blue light.

    If you continue to experience eye strain and headaches after trying a variety of adjustments, it might be a good idea to see an ophthalmologist. Through an eye exam, your eye doctor can examine your eye muscles, assess for underlying eye or health problems, and confirm you are wearing the proper eyeglass or contact lens prescription. They may be able to identify the cause of your eye strain during this exam.

    Can Poor Eyesight Trigger Migraines

    Ocular Migraines

    Poor eyesight is not commonly a trigger for migraine. Although it can cause eyestrain and headaches in some people. Poor eyesight isnt even in the top 10 most common causes of headaches!

    Refractive errors, like astigmatism, myopia, hyperopia or presbyopia when uncorrected or under corrected can cause muscle tension. If you squint to see better, you are tensing the muscles in your forehead and around your eyes. Or you may find you lean closer to your computer screen, or lift your chin to try and see through the bottom of your spectacles. These changes to posture and muscle tension around the head, neck and shoulders is a very common cause of headaches. So, having up to date and properly fitting spectacles can actually reduce your muscle tension.

    Despite this, when looking for the underlying cause of your headaches or migraines, having a full and thorough eye examination is still high on the list of priorities. Refractive errors may not be a common cause of headache or migraine, but they can contribute to the frequency and intensity of the head pain. There are also other eye related conditions that can cause visual disturbances or headaches such as Angle Closure Glaucoma and Age Related Macular Degeneration.

    What about in children?

    If you experience migraine headaches, we recommend consulting your doctor and/or eye care professional. They can help you get to the cause and come up with a treatment plan.

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    Ive Heard Of Retinal Migraines What Are They

    Some migraine sufferers experience silent migraines: they might experience the visual auras or sickness, but no headache. This is in fact a separate condition, also known as retinal migraines or ocular migraines, which can even cause temporary loss of vision in one eye for up to an hour.

    If you lose the sight in one or both eyes, even if its temporary, make sure you contact your optician or vision care expert immediately. Call Leightons on 0800 40 20 20 if youre worried.

    What Causes Visual Migraines

    Nobody knows for sure how migraines are caused, although many contributing factors have been identified.

    • Family history


      Migraine headaches typically occur on one side of the head and cause throbbing pain, but the features often vary. Migraineurs often experience a bilateral event, meaning that the pain can be felt anywhere around the head or neck.

      A majority of migraineurs experience early symptoms. Forewarning of a migraine may occur hours to days before a headache event. Although the specific symptoms vary, they tend to remain the same for a given individual over time. These warning symptoms may include the following:

      Some migraineurs experience aura. Aura is defined as focused symptoms that grow over 5-15 minutes and generally last about an hour. In most cases, the migraine headache follows the aura. However, the two events can happen at the same time, or the aura may develop after the headache starts. With aura, visual symptoms are most common and include the following:

      Motor symptoms like hemiparesis and aphasia may occur but much less frequently.

      Some people have auras only, without headaches. Treatment is usually unnecessary once the diagnosis is recognized and the migraineur reassured about it. If the aura always occurs on the same side, the risk of a brain tumor or other abnormality is greater than in persons with routine headaches.

      Typical headache characteristics are as follows:

      Physical examination findings

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      Visual Impairments Associated With Migraine Can Happen With Or Without A Headache

      Ocular Migraine is a term that has been used to refer to a number of migraine subtypes that are characterized by a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars. Unlike other forms of migraine, they may occur without any accompanying head pain. Its not uncommon for a single patient to experience a wide range of visual symptoms. Heres what you need to know to better understand the migraine subtypes that affect vision.

      What To Do If You Have A Visual Disturbance

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      If you are suffering from visual disturbances

      • Stop what you are doing. If you are driving, pull over as soon as you can do so safely.
      • Stay calm. Most visual disturbances will pass in 10-30 minutes and are not likely to be a medical issue.
      • Rest, often a cool dark room is most comforting.
      • Take paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac or naproxen whichever painkiller you have previously used comfortably and safely.
      • Record, write down what you feel and see. Take special note of whether or not the disturbance is affecting one or both eyes.

      Then, when you get a chance, contact your Optometrist or GP to discuss how soon you should be checked. In most cases these symptoms are not urgent.

      But if you have sudden loss of sight in one or both eyes, or in a section of your vision, seek medical advice immediately.

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      What Else Should I Know

      While many doctors now believe ophthalmoplegic migraine is a nerve disorder, some do still believe it could be linked to migraine.

      Researchers in a recent study suggested that migraines cause a sudden narrowing of the arteries that send blood to the third, fourth, and sixth cranial nerves, which keeps them from getting enough blood.

      But doctors need more research to fully understand why ophthalmoplegic migraine happens.

      Visual Disturbance Of Migraine Is Short

      The visual disturbances of migraine generally last less than an hour, most commonly 10-30 minutes. Sometimes they only last seconds. They may or may not be associated with a headache, and some individuals only experience the visual symptoms without headaches. The visual symptoms usually start before the headache but may occur during the headache.

      To complicate the issue, migraine may change throughout life. The character of the headache may change, and the visual symptoms may change. The most common pattern is for the headaches to become less severe or even go away, with episodes of visual aura persisting. Some people only experience migraine-related visual symptoms, often without headache, starting at age 50 or later.

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      Symptoms Of Visual Disturbances From Migraine

      Positive symptoms include zig-zag lines which often shimmer and may move across the field of vision, sparkles, dots, stars, spots, squiggles, and flash bulb effects. The classic migraine visual aura consists of an area that is not well seen, surrounded by shimmering zig-zag lines, that gradually enlarges and then breaks up over a period of 15-30 minutes.

      Negative symptoms are blind spots, tunnel vision, complete loss of vision, or loss of all vision to the left or right side.

      Distorted or altered visual symptoms are the sensations of looking through water, heat waves, blurred vision, fractured vision , loss of color vision, objects appearing too large or small, or objects seeming closer or farther than they really are.

      Given the wide variety of visual symptoms that accompany migraine, it is sometimes hard to determine whether ones symptoms are indeed migraine-related, or due to a more serious problem that warrants medical attention. Causes for concern include:

      Deborah I. Friedman, MD, MPH, Director, Headache and Facial Pain Program University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Dallas, TX

      This article is a legacy contribution from the American Headache Society Committee for Headache Education and the Fred Sheftell, MD Education Center.

      Reviewed for accuracy by the American Migraine Foundations subject matter experts, headache specialists and medical advisers with deep knowledge and training in headache medicine. to read about our editorial board members.

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      What Is A Migraine

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      A migraine is a recurrent and severe headache which a whopping one in ten New Zealanders suffer from. There are a few different types of migraines which people usually experience:

    • A classic migraine occurs in about 40% of migraine sufferers and has an aura .
    • A common migraine occurs in about 60% of migraine sufferers and has no aura.
    • A silent migraine is when a person experiences the aura, but no headache or pain afterwards.
    • A visual migraine is a silent migraine when the aura is visual.
    • A retinal migraine is very rare and its visual symptoms are the partial or total loss of vision, temporarily in one eye. In recurrent cases, it is most likely to affect the same eye each time. The vision fades out over five minutes, and can be described as a dimming of vision, flashes of light or patches of blank spots that enlarge to block out all sight in that eye. The vision returns to normal within an hour. This loss of vision is caused by reduced blood flow or spasms of the blood vessels in the retina or behind the eye, not in the brain.
    • Migraines might occur rarely, once or twice a year, or they could strike several times a month. The frequency differs drastically between sufferers and is often associated with an underlying cause. Migraines usually run in families as they have a genetic component. People with two parents who suffer from migraines have a 75% chance of having migraines themselves. Women are also three times more likely than men to get them.

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      Tips For Managing And Preventing Visual Migraines

      If your visual migraine occurs frequently, here are some tips to help you prevent or manage the condition.

      • Acupressure. This is an evidence-based practice of applying pressure with hands to specific points on the body to relieve pain and other symptoms. It can be an effective alternative therapy for migraine headaches.
      • Lavender oil. Lavender oil can be inhaled or applied diluted to the temples to ease your migraine pain.
      • Peppermint oil. According to a 2010 study, the menthol in peppermint oil can minimize migraines.6 The research showed that applying menthol to the forehead and temples relieved migraine-related pain, nausea, and light sensitivity.
      • Yoga. Yoga uses breathing, meditation, and body postures to promote health and well-being, relieving the frequency, duration, and intensity of migraines.
      • Massage therapy. Massage reduces stress and enhances coping skills. It also lowers heart rate, anxiety, and cortisol levels.
      • Herbal supplements. Butterbur and feverfew are common herbal remedies that may aid with migraine pain and frequency reduction.
      • Avoid Triggers. Ocular migraine triggers such as caffeinated foods, alcohol, dehydration, smoking, or stress
      • Unwind at the end of the day. Basic things like listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath after a long day can help your body relax and prevent migraines.

      How To Prevent Migraines And Vision Symptoms

      There are a few things you can do to prevent migraines and reduce your vision symptoms. First of all, try to avoid the migraine triggers mentioned above. In particular, if you want to prevent vision symptoms, you should:

      Quit smoking: Smoking can make your migraine symptoms worse and weaken your body in general.

      Consider changing oral contraceptives: Hormonal imbalances can really make your migraines more frequent. To better regulate your hormones, you can reduce estrogen levels by changing from oral contraceptives.

      Exercise regularly: Regular exercise is good for keeping your body tension-free. It can also help you get to sleep at night, which is a major factor in chemical balances.

      Stay hydrated: Migraines may also be triggered by dehydration. Make sure youre drinking enough water during the day. Eight glasses of eight ounces should do the trick.

      Get good sleep: Creating a sleep routine is also a good way to keep your body in balance and avoid triggers related to fatigue and hormonal imbalances.

      Eat right: Fill up your plate with fruits and veggies, and cut back on processed foods if you want to avoid dietary triggers. You should also eat regular meals.

      You know best what triggers to avoid in order to prevent migraines. In addition to stopping a migraine before it even starts, you should follow these visual-specific tips:

      About Dr. Brent Wells

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      What Are The Acute Treatments For Migraine

      An isolated visual migraine, without headache, typically does not require any acute treatment, since the visual symptoms resolve on their own fairly quickly. The first few times someone experiences a visual migraine it usually causes a lot of anxiety. Once someone has become familiar with the symptoms of a visual migraine, new episodes no longer cause the same level of anxiety.

      It can be helpful to try to rest during the episode. Some patients benefit from other strategies, including eating something, having caffeine, or taking an over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen .

      Patients in whom the visual symptoms are accompanied by a severe headache often benefit from additional therapies. The goal of these medications is to try to cut short the headache before it becomes too severe. Some patients find naproxen , which is a stronger anti-inflammatory medication, to be helpful. Other patients try a class of medications known as triptans.

      Triptans are specially designed to work on receptors on blood vessels and brain cells in order to halt a migraine at an early stage. Although there are a number of different triptans, made by several different pharmaceutical companies, each of these is approximately equally effective. Triptans are often taken orally, but also come as injections and nasal sprays. These medicines are generally not considered safe in patients with a history of strokes, heart attacks, or other vascular diseases.


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