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What An Ocular Migraine Looks Like

Drive With Caution Or Not At All

Migraine Aura Types (1 of 4) – What a VISUAL AURA Looks Like and Simulations of my Migraine Auras

Common sense will tell you that if you have ocular migraine symptoms while driving, pull over and stop the car.

Make sure you have a mobile or cell phone with you to call someone to come and get you.

You can always get the car later. Or call a taxi so you can get home and rest. Resting for at least 15 minutes might help – try lying down in the back seat and covering your eyes for complete darkness.

Do not attempt to operate machinery or drive while experiencing an ocular migraine.

Are They Treated Differently

Not really. Experts arent sure what causes auras, so theres nothing special you can do about them. Its about treating the migraine symptoms and preventing more attacks.

To prevent migraines:

Medications. If other treatments donât work and you have 4 or more migraine days a month, your doctor may suggest preventive medicines. You take these regularly to make headaches less severe or less frequent. They include seizure medicines, blood pressure medicines , and some antidepressants. CGRP inhibitors are a new class of preventive medicine that your doctor may recommend if other medicines donât help.

Keep a headache diary. It will help you spot things that might trigger your migraines. Diary entries should include things like the date and time of your headache, any foods you had eaten, what you did, and medication you took just before the headache began. It may take 6 to 8 weeks or longer to begin to see patterns and triggers.

Avoid common food triggers. Use information from your diary and from trial and error to figure out if any of these foods might be causing your migraines:

The Migraine Association of Ireland: Migraine Without Aura,Migraine With Aura.


What Causes Kaleidoscope Vision

There are a few causes of kaleidoscope vision. Typically, migraine headaches are at the root of visual disturbances like kaleidoscope vision.

Migraines are common. Eighteen percent of women and 6% of men experience them.2

There are different types of migraines, but a visual migraine is usually what causes kaleidoscope vision. Your brains nerve cells fire erratically, which can cause aches and pains, as well as some visual disruptions. Fortunately, these types of migraines usually pass in about 10 to 30 minutes.7

However, while visual migraines are often mistaken for retinal migraines, they are different. A retinal migraine happens in just one eye and causes you to see scintillations and scotoma .

Retinal migraines can also cause temporary vision loss or peripheral vision loss. You will experience visual symptoms first, followed by a headache within the hour.4

If you have frequent or persistent migraines that cause visual irregularities of any kind, consult your eye specialist. Kaleidoscope vision and migraines in general can be a symptom of a more serious underlying health concern. For example, it could be an early symptom of a stroke, brain injury, or other neurological disorder.

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Is Kaleidoscope Vision Serious What Are The Complications

While the visual symptoms of kaleidoscope vision can feel alarming, they may not be anything to worry about. You could just have an ocular migraine. About a quarter of people who get migraines experience visual disturbances.8

If you experience kaleidoscope vision regularly, notice a sudden change in your visual system, or are having extreme difficulty with visual processing, seek medical attention right away. Kaleidoscope vision can be serious.

One possible cause of an ocular migraine is visual dysfunction, such as binocular visual dysfunction . This refers to a misalignment of the eyes that causes a discrepancy in their lines of sight.1

But a visual migraine headache could also be a symptom of a stroke, which can be fatal.5

Research has also found that migraines are associated with multiple sclerosis.3 More specifically, migraines are three times more common for people with multiple sclerosis than the general population.3

Migraines can also signify brain damage, especially if you experience extreme symptoms like temporary blindness and issues with your other senses. If you cover one eye and have no trouble seeing with the other, the issue is likely coming from the covered eye.

If you do not notice a difference when you cover either eye, it could mean your brain is involved.

Can I Have A Visual Migraine Without A Headache

This is how migraine looks like

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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What To Look For When You Have Scintillating Scotoma

Retinal migraine is a fairly rare condition. Most often, diagnosed with a thorough medical history and a description given by the patient. There is no definitive test. The international Headache Society has retinal migraine strictly defined as at least two attacks fulfilling the following criteria:

  • Fully reversible visual phenomena: scintillations , scotoma or blindness that occurs in only one eye, and lasts between 5-60 minutes. Its unusual for the vision loss to last more than an hour. And, in most cases, the same eye is affected every time.


  • Headache, beginning during the visual symptoms or within 60 minutes of onset and having the criteria of migraine without aura.

Consisting of:

  • Headache lasting 4-72 hours , one sided, pulsating, moderate to severe in intensity, physical activity makes it worse.
  • Having either nausea/vomiting or light/sound sensitivity.

Diagnostic Distinction

The distinction of the visual aura being present in only one eye is diagnostic in this case. Typical migraine with aura is seen in both eyes because the vision symptoms come from the brain. With retinal migraine, the symptoms are being generated from the eye and therefore are only visible when one eye is open and the other eye is closed. Irreversible vision loss is a potential complication of retinal migraine but is not a complication with migraine with aura.

Causes Of Migraine Aura

Migraine aura is believed to be caused primarily by cortical spreading depression .

Brain cells use electrical ions around the cellular membrane to maintain equilibrium. In aura, there is a temporary malfunction of this cellular balance which causes a slow wave of electrical disturbance, the CSD.

This wave of intense excitation across the visual cortex is what is thought to lead to visual aura symptoms including shimmering patches or curves, stars or blind spots etc. After the wave passes it could also cause an abnormal inhibition of activity which may explain the blind spots, partial or temporary blindness.

Neuroimaging studies show some evidence that suggest CSD leads to a temporary decrease in blood supply to certain areas in the brain. The lack of blood supply and the electrical disruptions may account for the wide and varied range of symptoms. It may also help explain differences that can be experienced by the same individual on different occasions.

Why some people have aura and others dont is likely due to several anomalies that researchers dont yet fully understand. It is hypothesized that there are several genetic factors that play a role in a patients predisposition to migraine with aura. Research is taking place to understand potential genes involved in aura which will hopefully lead to specific treatments to prevent aura.

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When To Call A Doctor About Your Migraines

If youre not getting satisfactory relief from over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes, or if youre taking over-the-counter medications more than 10 to 15 times per month, talk to your primary care physician about your headaches.

The evaluation of headaches usually starts with the primary care doctor, who assesses whether a patient has a common headache or something more serious, says Santiago Mazuera Mejia, MD, a neurologist at the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute at LifeBridge Health in Baltimore, Maryland. Primary care doctors often continue to see people with infrequent migraines. However, if at some point, there is a need for more complex treatments, patients usually go to neurologists and headache specialists who have additional training in preventive and acute treatments as well as nonmedical treatments.

Its important to get evaluated by a doctor because taking over-the-counter medications too frequently can sometimes lead to serious side effects or actually make you get headaches more often.

Its helpful to keep a diary if you experience migraines because you may discover your triggers, which can inform which type of treatment is best for you. Write down what time your migraines occur, how long they last, how you slept the night before, what you ate/drank that day and when, how you felt emotionally that day, etc. Then bring that information to your doctor.

What Are The Red Flags That My Visual Symptoms Are Not Due To Migraine

Ocular Migraine –

The typical symptoms of a visual migraine are positive, meaning that there is something shimmering or sparkling that is disrupting the vision. Migraines are less likely to cause negative symptoms of pure visual darkness. An episode of visual darkness typically requires additional evaluation for other conditions, including a mini-stroke .

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Should I Worry About Retinal Migraine

A retinal migraine unlike a migraine aura will affect only one eye, not both. But usually, loss of vision in one eye isnt related to migraine. Its generally caused by some other more serious condition. So if you experience visual loss in one eye, be sure to see a doctor right away for prompt treatment.

How To Cope With Troublesome Symptoms

I think the best way to cope with some of these symptoms is to rest in a nice dark room with ice packs or a sinus mask on your eyes or a warm wet face cloth. Nice and quiet, calm and peaceful.

Find out if if you get more relief with ice or heat, from your ocular migraine symptoms and use that next time.

Learning what works as you go can be trial and error, but persevere… it is worth experimenting until you find what works.

Listening to a soothing meditation or relaxation CD can help calm you down while you wait for the symptoms to pass.

Migraine Headache Music lists a variety of meditations and relaxing music you can download right now.

How do you cope with your ocular migraine symptoms? Let us know here.

Until next time, be well and be pain free.

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Ocular Migraine Bringing Facts Into Focus

This post may contain affiliate links. Migraine Strong, as an Amazon Affiliate, makes a small percentage from qualified sales made through affiliate links at no cost to you.

Migraine aura can be a visual symptom that accompanies a migraine attack. Maybe you have heard of scintillating scotoma? Perhaps you heard of this term for migraine aura while you were browsing a website, or maybe your doctor mentioned it to you. What is it? What does it look like? Can it cause permanent vision loss? Is it an ocular migraine? If you are looking for answers to questions like these, you have come to the right place. Lets dive into it.

While Migraine Strong writes about the latest in migraine treatments, this is not medical advice. We are patient educators and all information you read should be discussed with your doctor.

Complications Of Ocular Migraine

Ocular Migraines: Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

Any problems in vision should immediately be reported to a physician. The symptoms of ocular migraine should be investigated fully in order to determine that there is no other disease or condition present.

People who experience ocular migraines may be at risk for permanent vision loss. Patients should follow up with their physician on a regular basis and discuss any changes in their symptoms or their headaches.

  • Doyle, E., Vote, B. J., Casswell, A. G. . Retinal migraine: caught in the act Br J Ophthalmol. 88, 301302. doi: 10.1136/bjo.2003.021808 Retrieved from
  • Gan KD, Mouradian MS, Weis E, Lewis JR. . Transient monocular visual loss and retinal migraine. CMAJ.6 173, 1441-1442.
  • Grosberg, B. M., Solomon, S., Lipton, R. B. . Retinal migraine. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 9, 268-271.
  • International Headache Society. Retinal migraine. Retrieved from:

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What Causes Ocular And Visual Migraines

The exact cause of an ocular migraine can be difficult to pinpoint. But it’s believed they occur for the same things that cause migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches have a genetic basis, and some studies say that up to 70% of people who suffer from the disorder have a family history of migraine.

According to the World Health Organization , migraines are caused by the activation of a mechanism deep in the brain that leads to release of pain-producing inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head.

Studies have shown changes in blood flow to the brain during ocular migraines and migraine auras . But exactly why this happens remains unclear.

Common migraine “triggers” that can cause a person to have a migraine attack include:

  • Certain foods

  • Caffeinated drinks

  • Artificial sweeteners

Stress and lack of sleep also can trigger an ocular migraine or visual migraine.

Theres A Genetic Link Too

Hemilplegic migraine is the one migraine type that has a confirmed genetic link. Researchers have identified 3 different genetic mutations which can each cause hemiplegic migraine.

There are now four familial subtypes:

  • Familial hemilplegic migraine is diagnosed when at least one first- or second-degree relative also has the symptoms of hemiplegic migraine.
  • Familial hemilplegic migraine, type 1 is diagnosed when there is a confirmed causative mutation on the CACNA1A gene on chromosome 19 in addition to the symptoms listed above.
  • Familial hemilplegic migraine, type 2 is diagnosed when there is a confirmed causative mutation on the ATP1A2 gene on chromosome 1 in addition to the symptoms listed above.
  • Familial hemilplegic migraine, type 3 is diagnosed when there is a confirmed causative mutation on the SCN1A gene on chromosome 2 in addition to the symptoms listed above.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Visual Disturbance

  • 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
  • How Common Are Ocular Migraines

    Migraine Visual Aura – Office

    According the the migraine research foundation about 25% of migraine sufferers experience the visual aura which lasts less than an hour.

    They are more common in women and have a genetic link to them.

    Its always more important to focus on the epigenetic and exposomic links because you can change those and they will affect your health far more.

    Below is a great video representation of the migraine aura as it grows.

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    How Is It Treated

    After a full checkup is done and other causes of visual disturbances or headaches are ruled out, your doctor will work with you to identify what is triggering your optical migraine.

    For those prone to migraines, certain stimuli such as stress, fragrances, bright lights, working on a computer for long periods of time, and even weather changes can bring them on.

    Certain foods and alcohol, and especially caffeine, can also cause migraines. You may need to make lifestyle adjustments, such as changing your diet or avoiding strong fragrances, to avoid triggering future migraines.

    If you are a woman, your doctor may wish to identify when your migraines occur in relation to your menstrual cycle. For women who have menstrual headaches and migraines related to their menstrual cycle or menopausal changes, hormonal medications such as birth control pills may be prescribed.

    Other medications used to treat migraines in conjunction with lifestyle changes include NSAID pain relievers, antidepressants, beta blockers, and anticonvulsant medications commonly used in patients with epilepsy.

    Symptoms Of An Ocular Migraine

    The International Headache Society has defined the symptoms that are typical of a retinal or ocular migraine. These symptoms are monocular , temporary, and include:

    • Scintillations: seeing something that looks like flash of light, lightning, or a sparkle. Halos or lines may also be seen.
    • Scotoma: a temporary blind spot, black spot, blurriness, or a partial loss of vision.
    • Blindness: partial or complete blindness in one eye.
    • Migraine headache: The symptoms in the eye are accompanied by a headache that can last from a few hours to a few days. The headache is often located on the same side of the head as the eye that is experiencing symptoms.
    • Other: Symptoms that typically occur with a migraine may also occur, such as light sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting.

    Other types of migraines can cause visual problems, especially flashes of light and blind spots in the field of vision. The important distinction is that with an ocular migraine, these symptoms only occur in one eye.

    It can be difficult to determine which eye is experiencing the symptoms, or if they are taking place in both eyes. A qualified healthcare professional can help determine the location of the symptoms while they are occurring.

    If the symptoms cant be assessed at that time, a patient may try covering one eye. With one eye covered, it may be easier to tell which eye is affected, or if the problem is occurring in both eyes.

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