This Is What Really Causes Ocular Migraines

When you think of having a migraine, you probably imagine someone with a debilitating headache lying in a dark room insisting on perfect silence. But an ocular migraine is a type of migraine that doesn't usually come with head pain. Instead, they affect your vision in strange ways. Since they don't act like typical migraines, what are the symptoms specific to them?

Ocular migraines impair your vision and cause unusual visual disturbances, like blind spots, zig-zag lines, vision loss, and seeing stars, according to the American Migraine Foundation. They typically don't last very long, and if the visual disturbances come with head pain, they usually occur right before the pain begins and end at the peak of pain. In about 20% of people, ocular migraines can last for over an hour and start after head pain is already underway. Ocular migraines happen in about 25-30% of people who experience migraines. Migraines with aura and retinal migraines are two types of ocular migraines. While they can be scary, they're usually short-lived and only temporary.

What causes them?

There are a couple of different theories about what causes ocular migraines. One is that blood flow to the eye is reduced by a narrowing of the arteries, causing visual disturbances (via Healthline). Another theory involves abnormal electrical activity moving slowly across parts of the brain or in the back of the eye, according to theĀ American Migraine Foundation. This slow movement is what causes the short-term symptoms of visual impairment.

There are also triggers for ocular migraines that may increase your likelihood of developing one. Typical triggers can include stress, changes in hormone levels, bright or flashing lights, alcohol consumption, weather changes, skipping meals, and getting too little or too much sleep (per the American Optometric Association). It may be helpful to keep a headache journal to become aware of what triggers your ocular migraines. They can often be prevented by avoiding triggers and are typically treated with over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen or with prescription medication specific to migraines.