If you have ever experienced a small but growing blind spot with what looks like bright flickering or flashing lights, then you may have had an ocular migraine. While upsetting, these episodes generally last about 30 minutes and may include temporary diminished vision, or loss of vision in one eye, but they are not damaging to your eye. These are also sometimes called an auric migraine.
There is no exact known cause of ocular migraines and they are rare, affecting only about one in 200 people. They are usually experienced by people who are afflicted with migraine headaches and those with a family history of both.
If You Have an Ocular Migraine
If you experience flashing lights in your vision or blindness in one eye you should go to your doctor as soon as possible for a complete eye examination. Sometimes those who experience an ocular migraine have a bad headache, feel nauseated or vomit and become unusually sensitive to light or sound. Be sure to report to your doctor all the symptoms that preceded or followed the ocular migraine.
If while driving, you begin to feel one or ‘see’ one coming on, get off the road immediately.
Who Is at Risk for Ocular Migraines?
Those who have migraine headaches are at the highest risk for experiencing an ocular migraine. Migraine headaches are intensely painful headaches that can sometimes last for days, and cause auras to appear around objects, dizziness, nausea and blurred vision. They can be genetic.
Hormones have also been linked to migraines and ocular migraines in women. Estrogen affects chemicals in the brain that can increase pain sensations. Fluctuating hormones before and during menstruation and menopause can make women a high-risk group for ocular migraines.
Ocular Migraine Triggers
There are many things in your environment and diet that can be a trigger for ocular migraines. They include:
- Bright lights
- Loud sounds
- Strong odors
- Changes in the weather
- Stress and anxiety (especially after prolong periods of either or both)
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Preservative laded foods, especially those with nitrates (hot dogs, deli meats) or monosodium glutamate (aka MSG)
- Foods with tyramine like aged cheeses, hard sausages and soy products
- Artificial sweeteners
- Low blood sugar levels due to not eating for a lengthy period of time
How Concerned Should You Be?
While disturbing, the loss of vision in one eye and visual disturbances are generally thought to be harmless. They may interfere with daily activities temporarily but are not considered a serious condition. However, ocular migraines are sometime confused for a much more serious retinal migraine which causes vision loss in both eyes, and is linked to some much more serious medical problems. For that reason, if you ever have temporary loss of vision, see flashing lights, and are not sure if it is in one or both eyes, you are at risk for migraines, or already have them, you should see your doctor right away.