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What is an Ocular Migraine?

Most people are familiar with migraine attacks; in fact, over 37 million Americans experience them firsthand. Though migraines are common, only 1 of 200 people who experience migraines also has ocular migraines. These rare, lesser known migraines are sometimes mistaken for migraines with aura. However, instead of visual disturbances in both eyes, ocular migraines are characterized by temporary blindness in one eye.

A Rare Condition

The temporary blindness inflicted by an ocular migraine usually lasts less than an hour. Unlike auras, which typically occur before a migraine, the temporary blindness usually happens either during the attack itself or after the headache has passed.

Ocular migraine is also called:

  • Monocular migraine
  • Ophthalmic migraine
  • Retinal migraine
  • Visual migraine

This type of migraine has a lot of names for something so rare! However, the names refer to various aspects of the condition. For example, the term “monocular migraine” was coined since the temporary blindness occurs in only one eye.

Causes

Migraine remains somewhat of a mystery condition, and ocular migraines are no exception.

Researchers hypothesize that the temporary blindness has to do with:

  1. Blood vessel spasms in the retina
  2. Changes spreading across the nerve cells of the retina

There is still a significant amount of clinical research that needs to be done on this challenging form of migraine.

Hormones

Migraines are strongly linked to estrogen, which controls certain chemicals in the brain that affect a person’s pain sensations. Estrogen levels in women fluctuate due to factors such as:

  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement
  • Menopause
  • Monthly cycle
  • Pregnancy

Woman suffers from an ocular migraine at her desk

Often, a female migraine sufferer can pinpoint a correlation between a certain point in her cycle and her vulnerability to migraine attacks.

These hormonal factors apply ocular migraines, as well as migraines in general.

Genetics

Migraine is a condition that tends to run in families. This is also something that applies to all migraines, including ocular migraines.

Triggers

Ocular migraines can be caused by the same environmental factors that can cause other forms of migraine. These vary from person to person, so it’s beneficial keep track of your specific triggers. There are even apps that can help!

Migraine triggers frequently include:

  • Alcohol
    • Red wine is one of the worst ones
  • Anxiety
  • Bright lights
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Extreme physical exertion
    • Exercise is still crucial for good health and migraine prevention though!
  • Foods with:
    • Artificial sweeteners
    • MSG
    • Nitrates
    • Tyramine
  • Hormonal changes
  • Loud sounds
  • Strong perfume or other odors
  • Stress
  • Weather changes

Risks

One of the worst aspects of ocular migraines is that they heighten a person’s risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye. Even though the vision loss is temporary during the attack, how an individual may be affected longterm is unpredictable. We highly recommend seeing your doctor or healthcare provider if you’ve had an ocular migraine.

It is yet unknown whether the medications used to prevent migraines (such as anti-seizure medications or tricyclic antidepressants) can help lower or prevent a patient’s risk of permanent vision loss.

Ocular Migraine or Migraine with Aura?

Sometimes ocular migraines are confused with migraines with aura, since they both involve migraines and some kind of vision problem. However, they are two different conditions.

Not only are ocular migraines and migraines with aura often confused, migraines and bad headaches are too. Do you know how to tell the difference

One of the ways to distinguish between the two is that a visual aura affects both eyes, whereas an ocular migraine only affects one eye.

Telltale signs of ocular migraine include:

  • Blind spots in one eye
  • Complete blindness in one eye
  • Visual disturbances in only one eye
  • Visual disturbances DURING or AFTER attack

It should be noted that having a blind spot in the left or right side of your field of vision doesn’t mean it’s just coming from that specific eye. It could still involve both eyes and be a migraine with aura. A good way to tell is to cover one eye and then the other. Knowing this will be helpful when you talk to your doctor.

Like all migraines, ocular migraines have the potential to be accompanied by:

  • Extra pain when you move
  • Sensory sensitivity
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Sensitivity to sound
  • Upset stomach

Conclusion

Have you ever had an ocular migraine? Have you ever had a migraine with aura? A migraine without aura? No matter what type of migraine you’ve had, we’re guessing the throbbing head pain made for an incredibly rough experience no matter what your other symptoms were. Here at Achieve Clinical Research, we are working hard in the hopes that this migraine pain and any accompanying symptoms may one day be a thing of the past.

If you are interested in being a part of this crucial progress, you may want to consider participating in a migraine clinical trial in Alabama. Clinical trial participants often gain access to the most promising treatments and receive all medical care free of cost–regardless of insurance.

We are currently enrolling a few more eligible participants in our upcoming migraine clinical trials right here in the Birmingham area. If you’d like to see whether you’re eligible (or simply want more information!) please fill out the short form on the right of this page or give us a call at (205) 757-8208. Here’s to fighting chronic migraine together!

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