Eye conditions & symptoms 2 min read

What are ocular migraines and how can you prevent them?

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An ocular migraine is a rare condition often associated with temporary vision loss. Experiencing an ocular migraine for the first time can be a little worrying, but by understanding the causes and preventable actions, you may be able to reduce the effects.

It is important to note that an ocular migraine is sometimes confused with another condition known as a visual migraine. Ocular migraines are not the same thing; a visual migraine is much more common and harmless. An ocular migraine, also known as a retinal migraine, are usually painless and may occur alongside or after a migraine headache. 

What are the symptoms of an ocular migraine?

The main symptom is usually a small blind spot that affects the central vision in just one eye. It will often affect the same eye every time. The blind spot will get larger until it is challenging to see correctly out of that eye affecting activities like driving or reading.

Blurred central vision due to ocular migraine

Generally, the episode lasts less than an hour and vision in the affected eye will return to normal by itself. If you experience further vision problems, make an appointment to see your local optician.

If you aren’t sure whether you are experiencing an ocular or a visual migraine, cover one eye. If you notice visual disturbances in just one eye, it is likely to be an ocular migraine. If it is both eyes, you could be experiencing a visual migraine.

Why does an ocular migraine happen?

A woman sitting with a coffee experiencing an ocular migraine

It’s believed that ocular migraines have similar causes as a migraine headache. Both may have a genetic link, with those who have a family history of migraines being more susceptible to them.

The cause of ocular migraines can be down to reduced blood flow in the retina. The blood vessels to the eye suddenly narrow, reducing the blood flow to the eye. Many triggers may contribute to the onset of an ocular migraine, and they may differ from person to person.

Triggers can include stress, lack of sleep, smoking and certain foods like caffeine, chocolate or red wine. Ocular migraines are more common in women, and more common amongst those under 40.

How to treat and prevent ocular migraines

There is usually no treatment needed for an ocular migraine, as the symptoms disappear on their own within the hour. However, if you experience visual disturbances alongside a migraine headache, see your optician or GP for additional advice on treatment. 

The most common treatment for ocular migraines includes pain relief for headaches and being able to reduce your exposure to any known triggers. It may be helpful to make a diary of your diet and lifestyle, especially anything that happens just before an episode. These records could lead to an established pattern of what triggers your ocular migraines, allowing you to try and reduce the frequency.

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