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Ocular Migraine: Should You Be Concerned?

by Institute for Vibrant Living

More than 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, and roughly 20 percent of these sufferers experience something known as an auric migraine or an ocular migraine.  Symptoms may consist of flashing or shimmering lights, wavy lines, blind spots within the field of vision, and may or may not include classic migraine pain.  Ocular migraines can affect the ability to read, write, and drive, but they are generally not considered a cause for alarm.  Because the symptoms of an ocular migraine may also be attributed to more serious conditions, becoming better informed helps ensure optimal health.

While they may or may not feel painful, people who develop an ocular migraine often experience flashing or shimmering lights, wavy lines, or blind spots.

Although the cause of an ocular migraine remains a mystery, many experts suspect a variety of classic-migraine influences.  A family history raises risks for developing ocular migraines as do past occurrences. 

The hormone estrogen has been linked to the development of classic and ocular migraines because it controls chemicals in the brain that influence pain sensation. Therefore, products or body cycles that affect the production of estrogen may also affect the development of migraines. 

Many people who suffer from migraines report a variety of triggers that can bring them on.  These include:

  • Lights, sounds, or odors
  • Chocolate
  • Foods containing nitrates like processed meats
  • Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Foods containing tyramine, like aged cheeses or smoked fish
  • Foods or beverages containing artificial sweeteners
  • Red wine and other alcoholic beverages
  • Too much or too little caffeine
  • Stress
  • Weather changes

Keeping a headache diary can help better determine triggers for preventing future ocular and classic migraines.

Related:  Monosodium Glutamate (msg): One Dose Causes Headache in Healthy Subjects

Retinal Migraine

Often confused with an ocular migraine, a retinal migraine is much less common and affects vision in just one eye.  Because vision loss in one eye can be an indicator of a more serious medical problem, people who experience this symptom should immediately consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Serious Conditions that Exhibit Similar Symptoms

Occasionally, a headache with aura is indicative of certain serious medical conditions.  These can include:

  • Aneurysm
  • Arterial tear
  • Brain tumor
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Head injury
  • Stroke

While it can be a nuisance, an ocular migraine typically presents little cause for alarm.  However, people who cannot identify a trigger or who have no personal or family history of migraines should consult with a medical professional to rule out more serious possibilities.

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