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Blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars? It could be ‘The Ocular Migraine’-Dr Arindam Dey, Head- CDMA, Alcon India

Flashes of light, shimmering stars and a fade to black. While this may sound like the climactic end to a sci fi movie, don’t be fooled. These are the symptoms people may experience when they suffer from an ocular migraine.

Ocular migraine also called as Retinal migraine, is a different condition and shouldn’t be confused with headache type migraine which is known as migraine aura that usually affects the vision of both eyes. Ocular migraine may cause partial or total loss of vision in one eye and this usually lasts approximately 15-30 minutes before vision gradually returns.

Thankfully, ocular migraine symptoms usually go away on their own within 30 minutes. Let us check what differentiates ocular migraine from migraine aura.

What differentiates ocular migraine from migraine aura?

The symptoms of the two conditions are nearly the same except for a few prominent signs. Regular migraine attacks can also cause vision problems, called as aura, which can involve flashing lights and blind spots. But these symptoms usually appear in both eyes along with splitting headache. The main difference is a migraine with aura will affect both eyes, while an ocular migraine affects only one and can be painless. Both may have visual disturbances such as:

  • Flashes of light
  • Zigzagging patterns
  • Blind spots
  • Shimmering, coloured, or flickering lights
  • Floating lines

What causes ocular migraine?

Ocular migraine can be triggered by high blood pressure, stress, excessive heat, smoking, disturbed sleep cycle, high altitude and usually tend to be more common among women, people aged <40 years, or people with family history.

The exact cause of ocular migraine is unknown. Leading theories attribute them to spasms in retinal blood vessels, and changes to nerve cells in the retina.

How to treat ocular migraine?

Ocular migraine symptoms usually go away on their own within 30 minutes. In the interim, resting the eyes, avoiding bright light, avoiding stress factors and minimizing screen time (time spent looking at a television, computer monitor, tablet or phone) can also bring relief.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain medications and anti-nausea medications can be beneficial for alleviating the symptoms, your doctor may prescribe Beta-blocker, Calcium-channel blocker etc, and however it’s always recommended to visit your ophthalmologist, if the symptoms persist.


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