Imagine this – You are going about your normal day and, suddenly, your vision begins to change causing you to feel like you might be going blind. This continues for about an hour, but then, your eyesight returns to normal. For some, there is head and eye pain, while for others, it is only a visual experience. If this has happened to you, you are probably a sufferer of ocular migraines. As an ophthalmologist and migraine sufferer myself, ocular migraines are something that I am super passionate about. I aspire to learn and share as much about it as possible. In this post, I’ll share further about the three different types of ocular migraines, what causes eye pain, why floaters and visual snow can be difficult to deal with as a migraine sufferer, potential triggers, and treatment options.
Migraine with aura
An aura is a visual symptom that occurs for, on average, about an hour. If this is happening to you, you aren’t alone. Thankfully, not all migraine sufferers will experience this, but it is still pretty common. About 1/3 of migraine sufferers will experience these visual side effects. When this occurs, it will usually affect both eyes. The auras can look like shimmering lights, zigzag lights, blinding lights, or blind spots. It also can look like you are looking through water. This can be really scary, especially if it is the first time or you are operating machinery. Sometimes people think they are going blind, or have a brain tumor causing the symptoms. Thankfully, when a migraine is causing the aura, it is not dangerous. Although, if you are experiencing an aura but aren’t sure that it is the result of a migraine, it is best to go see a doctor to make sure nothing else is going on.
While migraines with an aura are not usually something you need to worry about, retinal migraines can be more serious. Earlier, we talked about how aura migraines affect both eyes. With a retinal migraine, the symptoms are usually only in one eye. When this happens, it could be a symptom of something bigger happening. It can seem like a migraine with an aura because you will have an occasional loss of vision. If this is happening, make sure you schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Put simply, this is a migraine with an aura minus any head pain.
How are migraine sufferers are impacted by other eye conditions?
Interestingly, it has been found that migraine sufferers are more likely to have visual sensory processing issues. This means that when a person with migraines experiences other conditions such as floaters or visual snow, it is harder to cope with than people who do not have migraines. If you are one of these people, like I am, it is important that you do not feel like you are just being oversensitive. It truly is a more difficult experience compared to those that experience eye conditions with no migraines. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done about this. Mostly, sufferers will just have to learn to cope on their own. However, blue light glasses could potentially be helpful with lessening migraines. Thankfully, these issues are physiologically benign.
How are migraines and our eyes connected?
Some people get really bad eye pain when they have migraines. I am one of those people and when this happens to me, I experience lights becoming overly bright, nausea, and more. When eye pain is accompanied by a migraine, it is actually because of our nerve endings. In particular, the cranial nerve V. This nerve stems from the brain and surrounds the eye. This gives stimulation and feeling to the eye. Interestingly, it has also been found that there is a link between dry eyes and ocular migraines. This nerve also has a lot to do with eye lubrication. In migraine sufferers, these branches are shorter which causes a lack of moisture. For this reason, it is super important to bring up that you have migraines when you are seeing your eye doctor. If you are able to treat your dry eyes, your migraines will likely improve as well!
What are triggers for migraine?
If you are a migraine sufferer, it is important to try and identify your triggers. If you can identify your triggers, you can sometimes lessen the number of migraines you experience substantially. Sadly though, sometimes it can be hard to identify these triggers. Also, this won’t help retinal migraines.
Some of the foods that can be a trigger are anything containing tryptophan, aged cheese, alcohol, food additives (MSG), and dark chocolate. You also want to make sure you are drinking enough water. Dehydration can be hard on the body, causing you to have a migraine.
Hormone changes can also be a trigger. This could be pregnancy, menopause, or anything else that causes your hormones to fluctuate.
Sleep is super important! If you aren’t getting enough sleep, definitely try to make that a priority. I know! Sometimes it is hard! Alternatively, sometimes getting too much sleep can also be a trigger.
Certain smells are a trigger for a lot of people! This could be candles, perfume, or any product that has a strong scent.
5. Stress and Anxiety
Who isn’t stressed? It is ingrained in our culture to work, work, and work some more. I completely understand! It is so hard to forget about that endless list of tasks and relax. Also, it can be really hard to not be stressed when you are in a cycle of migraines. It’s a really difficult, scary, and painful experience. When this is happening all the time, it can be super stressful. If you can, please do yourself a favor and try to relax! You deserve it!
While there isn’t exactly a cure, there are a few different treatment options.
1) Over-the-counter medications (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Excedrin) for head pain.
2) Prescription medications that are used as needed (Triptans)
3) Prescription medications that are used daily (Prophylactic)
4) Injectable medication (Monoclonal antibodies)
To wrap it all up, if you feel that you are a migraine sufferer, please make sure you go see a doctor and get a full exam. I hope that the information I have shared will allow you to get some relief.
If you would like to watch my YouTube video explaining all of this, it is linked below!