Migraines are horrible. For those of you who have never experienced a migraine, you’re one of the lucky few. There’s the pain, of course- throbbing, pounding pain. But then, you get the tag-along symptoms: nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Migraine sufferers quickly learn on the second or third migraine that visual symptoms like wavy lines, flashing dots, and temporary blindness are usually the first sign of a migraine. Also, not all migraines are the same. Retinal or eye migraines, for instance, can occur with or without the accompanying headache, but they can still be just as painful.
Retinal migraines, or ocular migraines, are caused by the same inflammation as regular migraines. Inflammatory substances release deep inside the brain and around the blood vessels of the head and brain. While ocular and regular migraines affect vision, ocular migraines only affect one eye. Ocular migraine sufferers typically have a family history of migraine headaches.
While genetics play a major part, other factors can trigger a migraine. Common triggers include:
- Glaring or flickering lights
- Certain foods, such as aged cheeses, caffeinated drinks, red wine, smoked meats, and chocolate
- Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners
- Cigarette smoke
- Perfumes and other strong odors
- Lack of sleep
- Emotional stress
While migraines are a common neurological condition that affects approximately 20 percent of the population, women are more likely to experience migraines. In fact, women in their twenties or thirties are three times more likely to be retinal migraine victims than men in the same age group.
Another common issue is headaches behind the eyes. While stress, eyestrain, and lack of sleep can lead to this type of headache, a frequent cause is actual eye problems such as astigmatism, presbyopia and far-sightedness. These problems left uncorrected, cause habitual squinting and put stress on the eyes, which puts tension on the eye muscles, resulting in a headache.
The visual symptoms of ocular migraines are usually harmless and resolve on their own within a half hour. The associated headache, unfortunately, could last for several hours or even days. Rest is your first course of action. Afterwards, it’s best to talk with your physician about migraine treatment and prevention.
If you experience unusual vision symptoms, you should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to rule out vision-threatening conditions such as a detached retina.