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Ocular Migraine vs. Visual Migraine — What is the Difference?

August 20th, 2019

Not all migraine sufferers experience the head pain commonly associated with migraine attacks. Some people experience a type of silent migraine with visual disturbance but no head pain. “Ocular migraine” also known as “retinal migraine” is often confused with “visual migraine” which is a symptom of visual changes or vision loss resulting from the aura phase of the common migraine.

However, for people who experience ocular migraines the visual changes are a little different and can be very frightening as they most often include temporary vision loss that can last up to an hour. Both ocular migraines and visual migraines can occur with or without a headache.

Ocular Migraine vs. Visual Migraine

Ocular or retinal migraines happen in the eye, so only affect the vision in that eye, while visual migraines occur in the brain, so affect the vision in both eyes together.
  

Visual Migraine or Migraine with Aura

  • · A typical migraine accompanied by aura (a variety of visual sensations like a kaleidoscope, zig zag lines and blind spots that often warn that the pain is on the way)
  • · Visual disturbances usually affect both eyes
  • · Aura usually occurs before the migraine head pain attack
  • · Condition isn’t serious but can make it difficult to function and complete tasks

  

Ocular or Retinal Migraine (sometimes referred to as eye migraine or ophthalmic migraine)

  • · Typically occur in one eye and affects vision when a blood vessel in the eye spasms, resulting in a lack of blood flow.
  • · Typically include a flickering blind spot or black spot near the center of your field of vision which gradually gets bigger causing vision loss
  • · Vision loss typically lasts 30 minutes (range is 10 min to 1 hour)
  • · Usually not accompanied by a headache

Temporary Vision Loss

People experiencing ocular/retinal migraines will see a pattern of black spots called “scotomas.” These black spots gradually get bigger and cause complete loss of vision. Other people will partially lose vision in one eye. This is usually characterized by blurry, dim vision or twinkling lights called “scintillations.” Vision loss is temporary and restores in under an hour.

What causes ocular/retinal migraines? Ocular migraines occur when the blood vessels to the eyes start to constrict, or narrow. This reduces the blood flow to one of your eyes. When the migraine ends, the blood vessels relax and open up, allowing blood flow to resume and vision is restored.

Ocular migraines are believed to have the same causes or triggers as regular migraines. These triggers may include:

  • Migraine Triggers· Lack of Sleep
  • · Stress or hypertension
  • · Perfumes and strong odors
  • · Bright or flickering lights
  • · Foods containing nitrates such as hot dogs and other processed meats.
  • · Foods additives such as tyramine or MSG
  • · Caffeine
  • · Chocolate
  • · Tobacco use or cigarette smoke
  • · Artificial Sweeteners
  • · Dehydration
  • · Low blood sugar
  • · Being in higher altitudes

  
Migraine headaches have a genetic basis, and some studies say that up to 70 percent of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine headaches. If one parent has a migraine, there is a 50% chance of a child having it to. If both parents have migraine, a the chance of a children also experiencing migraine increases to 75%.

According to the World Health Organization, migraine headaches appear to be triggered by activation of a mechanism deep in the brain, which releases inflammatory substances around nerves and blood vessels in the head and brain. Imaging studies have shown changes in blood flow to the brain during ocular migraines and migraine auras. But why this happens and what brings about the spontaneous resolution of ocular migraines and visual migraines remain unknown.
  

NOTE: Temporary vision loss caused by ocular or retinal migraines, like migraine with aura is relatively minor however, you should always check with your doctor first to be properly diagnosed and rule out other serious health issues.
  
DIAGNOSIS: There are no diagnostic tests to confirm retinal migraine. Diagnosis is accomplished by reviewing the patient’s personal and family medical history, studying their symptoms, and doing an examination. Retinal migraine is then diagnosed by ruling out other causes for the symptoms. With retinal migraine, it is essential that other causes of transient blindness, such as stroke of the eye (amaurosis fugax), be fully investigated and ruled out. Seeing an ophthalmologist for a full eye exam is generally required for a good look at the back of the eyes.

  

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