Optical Migraine


What is optical migraine ?

Optical migraine is a condition that results temporary loss of vision or disruption of sight in one of the eyes. The condition may form along with headaches or may prelude them. Other names for optical migraines are ocular migraines, ophthalmic or retinal migraines.

Sudden constriction or tightening of blood vessels that restricts the flow of blood to the eye, leads to the development of optical migraines. Most cases tend to last for less than five minutes and the vision is restored to normalcy after that.

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Optical migraines can be quite distressing, but they do not result in any serious medical complications. Most patients completely recover from it. On rare occasions, optical migraines can cause damage to the blood vessels and the retina, and on rarer instances, permanent loss of vision may occur.

Optical migraine symptoms 

Almost fifty percent of the individuals affected by optical migraine experience temporary but total loss of vision in one eye. The other fifty percent of the patients may experience disturbances in vision such as:

  • Partial loss of vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Scotomas, i.e. empty spots in the vision
  • Flashes of bright light
  • Dimming

Most cases of optical migraines do not last for more than 5 minutes. Sometimes, they may last for nearly half an hour. Most individuals affected by optical migraines suffer from headaches during the course of the condition. Some patients may experience headaches prior to or after the condition.

Causes of Optical Migraine

  • The causes of optical migraine are the same as those of migraine headaches.
  • Studies indicate that optical migraines are caused due to certain activities in the brain which results in the release of inflammatory materials around the blood vessels and nerves of the brain and head. The reasons for such mechanisms within the brain are not understood.
  • MRI and other forms of imaging studies reveal that there are changes in the flow of blood in the brain at the time of optical migraines, but the causes of such blood flow alterations are also unknown.

Some of the risk factors for optical migraines include the following:

  • Optical migraines generally tend to affect adults in the thirties and forties. On most occasions, they begin at puberty and may affect children as well.
  • Presence of disorders such as hardening of the arteries, epilepsy, lupus, depression and lupus
  • Women tend to be at a greater vulnerability to develop optical migraines than men. Nearly 20 percent of the female population and around six percent of the male population in the United States are affected by the disorder.
  • A family history of optical migraines or other types of headaches, or a personal history of other forms of migraines and headaches, increases the risk

Some possible causes that may trigger an optical migraine attack are:

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  • Particular types of food like caffeinated drinks, smoked meats, aged cheeses, chocolate and red wine,
  • Certain food additives such as artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate or MSG
  • Other probable triggers for optical migraines include powerful perfume odors, flickering or obtrusive lights, cigarette smoke, emotional stress, lack of sleep and certain kinds of strong odors.

It is important to know that optical migraines are different from visual auras. Visual auras tend to affect both the eyes, while optical migraine affects only one eye.

Optical migraine treatment

There are two types of optical migraines which are as follows:

  • Optical migraines that result from limited flow of blood to any one of the eyes, and typically last for around five minutes
  • Migraines with aura, that cause visual distortions and may be accompanied by pain.

Treatment for optical migraines depend on the type of migraine that is diagnosed. The treatment is focused at curing attacks of optical migraines and preventing new cases of the condition.

Avoid the triggers:

  • A major part of optical migraine treatment involves the avoidance of triggers. Some of the common triggers for the condition are oral contraceptives and other types of drugs that contain estrogen, high blood pressure, increased heat, fatigue, smoking, dehydration, stress, low levels of blood sugar and fatigue.
  • A diet that consists of red wine, some kinds of cheese and food containing nitrates and MSG can act as possible triggers and hence should be avoided.


  • For migraines with aura: Medications such as ergots, triptans, anti-nausea medicines, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs and anti-epileptic medications can be used to treat acute cases and prevent new instances of the condition.
  • For optical migraines: The doctor may prescribe the use of calcium channel blockers to calm the ocular blood vessels. Other medications to treat the condition include Diamox and Nitroglycerin. All drugs are aimed at treating acute cases and preventing new ones.
  • In certain cases, alternative medicines and medical methods such as herbal cures butterbur and feverfew, coenzyme Q10, acupuncture, biofeedback and vitamin B2 may also be used.
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