Visual Migraines (Ophthalmic Migraine, Acephalgic Migraine)
Ophthalmic migraines, sometimes also called eye migraines or ocular migraines, are characterized by sudden, sometimes severe disturbances in the visual field, usually without any pain or headache. Unfortunately, these terms are often used interchangeably, but can mean different things to different doctors. Eye migraines are also sometimes confused with acephalgic (or silent) migraines, which is when a migraine sufferer experiences a visual aura without an accompanying headache.
Causes and Triggers
Eye migraines are not entirely understood. Some believe them to be caused by spasms in the vessels which carry blood to the eyes. Visual disturbances can occur when blood flow to structures in the eye or the optic nerve is interrupted. Generally, only one eye is affected.
Visual symptoms during acephalgic migraines are the result of migraine activity in the visual processing area of the brain (the visual cortex). This kind of activity is thought to be the result of blood flow changes in the brain, and usually affects both eyes at the same time.
Migraine triggers vary greatly from person to person but may include hormonal changes, scents, flashing lights, weather changes, certain foods, and medications.
Common visual symptoms of an eye-related migraine are:
- Blind spots
- Zig-zag lines
- Shimmering light, flashing lights or sparks
- Waviness, as if viewing the world through water
- Colors appear washed out and grey
- Lines in the visual field, like viewing the world through cracked glass
Symptoms occur suddenly and generally stop on their own within an hour.
Treatment is usually not necessary for an eye migraine, as the symptoms should subside on their own fairly quickly. If you're driving when the migraine begins, you should pull over immediately and not resume until you're sure the episode has completely passed. The same is true for any activity where poor vision could put yourself or others around you at risk. The best thing you can do during an eye migraine is stay still.
If symptoms last more than an hour, or the migraines occur frequently, see your eye doctor as soon as possible for a complete evaluation. There are serious eye disorders, such as detached retina, which have similar symptoms and require immediate medical attention to prevent permanent vision loss.
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