Ocular migraine involves attacks of visual disturbances that affect one eye and migraine headaches. The visual issues are temporary. Treatment involves avoiding triggers with lifestyle changes and medication.
These visual issues usually go away once the attack is over, and your vision returns to its usual state. In rare cases, visual problems can become permanent. The frequency of ocular migraines varies. But people who experience them usually have them more than once.
Ocular migraine can start as early as 7 years of age. But most people start experiencing them in their 20s, with a peak age of 40.
A retinal (ocular) migraine is a type of migraine aura. But it only affects one of your eyes. A migraine with aura affects both of your eyes. The visual symptoms during an ocular migraine usually don’t last as long as symptoms of a migraine with aura.
Another difference is that the headache pain tends to be right behind your affected eye in an ocular migraine. The pain can be more spread out in your head for a migraine with aura.
Ocular migraines are rare, but researchers don’t know how rare they are due to a lack of reporting. Migraines, in general, affect about 18% of women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and 6.5% of men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Not everyone who has migraines experiences ocular migraines.
The symptoms of ocular migraine (retinal migraine) can vary. But the main symptoms are visual disturbances in only one eye and a migraine headache.
The visual symptoms of ocular migraine may include temporary:
These symptoms usually last 10 to 20 minutes before your vision gradually returns to its normal state. The attacks affect the same eye in almost all cases of ocular migraine.
The migraine headache can happen before, during or within an hour after the attack. Symptoms of a migraine headache include:
The visual issues of ocular migraines typically last five to 60 minutes. But the headache can last from four to 72 hours if it’s not treated.
Researchers don’t know what exactly causes ocular migraines (retinal migraines), but they have theories. One of several theories is that it may be due to issues in blood vessels or blood flow that supports your retina. This issue in blood flow causes visual symptoms. Once your blood vessels relax, normal blood flow resumes and your sight returns.
Researchers believe there’s also a genetic component to ocular migraines, as 50% of people who experience them have a family history of migraine headaches.
Ocular migraines have similar triggers as migraine with aura. Common triggers include:
In rare cases, ocular migraine can lead to complications related to blood vessel and blood flow issues in and around your eye. They include:
Certain medications may make these complications more likely. Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting or stopping any medications.
If you’re able to see a healthcare provider during an ocular migraine, they may be able to see decreased blood flow to your eye using an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. This would help confirm the diagnosis of ocular migraine.
As attacks are usually brief, it’s more likely you’ll receive a diagnosis of ocular migraine based on your symptoms and medical and family history.
Your provider may recommend seeing an eye specialist, such as an ophthalmologist, to make sure you don’t have an underlying eye condition, which could be serious.
If ocular migraines happen infrequently, such as once a month, healthcare providers generally don’t recommend treatment.
If you have frequent ocular migraines, the goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency of attacks. Treatment includes:
It may not always be possible to prevent ocular migraines. But avoiding potential triggers of them can help. Try to record what you were doing before you got an ocular migraine, such as activities, what you ate or drank, how you felt, etc. It may take time to figure out what triggers your migraines.
The prognosis (outlook) for ocular migraine is usually good. Although the attacks can be painful and disturb your vision, healthcare provider generally consider ocular migraine to be benign.
However, in rare cases, the attacks can lead to permanent visual issues.
If you experience an ocular migraine for the first time, it’s important to see your healthcare provider to make sure you don’t have a more serious eye or brain condition.
If you have an ocular migraine diagnosis and your symptoms change or get worse, talk to your provider.
Ocular migraine isn’t a mini-stroke. They’re distinct conditions. However, stroke can cause vision problems that may be similar to ocular migraine. Because of this, it’s important to seek medical care if you experience sudden changes in your vision.
Other symptoms of stroke include:
Seek immediate medical help if you or someone you know has these symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ocular migraine usually isn’t dangerous, but frequent episodes can disrupt your routine. If you experience sudden vision changes with a migraine, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. They’ll need to make sure it’s not a more serious underlying condition causing your symptoms. A provider can also recommend treatment options to better manage ocular migraines.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/09/2023.
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