If you have ocular migraine, you may get vision loss or blindness in one eye for a short time -- less than an hour. You can have it along with or after a migraine headache.
It's a rare problem. Some research suggests that in many cases, the symptoms are due to other problems.
Regular migraine attacks can also cause vision problems, called an aura, which can involve flashing lights and blind spots. But these symptoms usually appear in both eyes.
See your doctor to find out if you have ocular migraine. He can rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Be ready to describe what you went through as completely as you can to help him figure out what's really going on.
You may hear your doctor call ocular migraine by some other names, such as visual, retinal, ophthalmic, or monocular migraines. Warning signs that it's coming on are:
Vision problems that affect just one eye. These include migraine with an aura or a change in vision. It might happen for only a few minutes or up to 30 minutes.
It can be hard to tell whether you're having symptoms in one eye only. That's because the flashing lights or blindness may be on one side of your vision but actually involve both eyes. If you're not sure, cover one eye and then the other.
A headache that lasts from 4 to 72 hours. It tends to:
- Affect one side of your head
- Feel moderately or very painful
- Throb or pulsate
- Feel worse when you move around
Other symptoms include:
- Being sensitive to light or sound
Experts aren't sure what causes ocular migraine. Some feel that the problem is linked to:
- Spasms in blood vessels in the retina, the lining in the back of the eye
- Changes that spread across the nerve cells in the retina
It's rare, but people who have these types of migraine may have a higher risk of permanent vision loss in one eye. Experts don't know if medications that prevent migraines -- such as tricyclic antidepressants or anti-seizure medications -- can help prevent that vision loss. But if you have ocular migraine, even if they go away on their own, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
How It's Diagnosed
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your eyes. He'll try to rule out other conditions that could cause similar problems, such as:
- Amaurosis fugax, temporary blindness due to a lack of blood flow to the eye. It can happen because of a blockage in an artery that leads to the eye.
- Spasms in the artery that brings blood to the retina
- Giant cell arteritis, a problem that causes inflammation in blood vessels. It can lead to vision problems and blindness.
- Other blood vessel problems related to autoimmune diseases
- Drug abuse
- Conditions that keep your blood from clotting normally, like sickle cell disease and polycythemia
Ocular migraine symptoms usually go away on their own within 30 minutes, so most people don't need treatment for them. It's best to stop what you're doing and rest your eyes until your vision goes back to normal. If you have a headache, take a pain reliever that your doctor recommends.
If you get vision loss in one eye only, it could be due to a serious condition that isn't related to migraine. Visit your doctor right away for prompt treatment or go to the emergency room.
There's been little research on the best way to treat or prevent ocular migraine. Your doctor may recommend one or more drugs:
- Drugs that treat epilepsy, such as sodium (Depakote, Depakene) or (Topamax)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) or nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- Blood pressure medicines called beta-blockers