Ocular migraine causes visual disturbances, or aura, with or without the headache that tends to occur with typical migraine.

Ocular migraine can be painful and disabling, but there are ways to help prevent and reduce symptoms.

In this article, we discuss the symptoms, causes, and risks of ocular migraine.

an woman suffering from a ocular migraine
An ocular migraine is a migraine that causes visual symptoms.

The medical community defines ocular migraine as migraine that causes visual symptoms, with or without other migraine symptoms, such as a headache.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, about of people with migraine experience aura, but less than 20% of these individuals experience it with every migraine episode.

Ocular migraine that does not cause aura is usually called common migraine. Doctors will typically refer to an ocular migraine episode with aura but without headache or pain as acephalgic or silent migraine.

Silent migraine is fairly rare but tends to occur more frequently as a person ages.

Some people use the terms "ocular migraine" and "retinal migraine" interchangeably, but the two conditions are not the same, and they require different care.

Researchers are not sure exactly why migraine headaches or episodes occur.

One theory is that they are due to inflammation in the brain, which can cause blood vessels to swell and put pressure on nerves, causing pain.

Migraine aura may develop because of abnormal electrical activity in the outer surface of the brain, or cortex, which slowly spreads like a wave over the visual portion of the brain.

Migraine also appears to have a link with a person's genes. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, of people with the condition have a family history of migraine.

In females, migraine episodes may also correlate with the hormonal changes that take place during the menstrual cycle.

Some people are more likely to have a migraine episode or headache after experiencing specific triggers.

Everyone's migraine triggers are different, but common ones include:

  • staring at a screen for a long time
  • driving long distances
  • being under harsh or poor lighting
  • skipping meals
  • dehydration
  • too little or too much sleep
  • hormonal changes
  • weather changes
  • alcohol, especially red wine
  • anxiety and stress
  • strong odors
  • loud noises
  • too much caffeine
  • caffeine withdrawal
  • nitrates, such as those in deli meats and many prepared meals
  • aspartame
  • tyramine, which is in aged cheeses, fava beans, hard sausages, soy products, and smoked fish
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • excessive heat or high altitude

Ocular migraine can cause painful symptoms and may be frightening for some people, but the episodes are almost always relatively short lived.

A retinal migraine, however, causes similar symptoms to ocular migraine and can lead to severe and irreversible vision loss.

Anyone who thinks that they may be having a retinal migraine episode should always talk with a doctor or seek emergency care.

Some signs that help distinguish retinal migraine from ocular migraine include:

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a retinal migraine, as well as the possible risks.

If a person does not receive prompt treatment for migraine conditions, they may become more sensitive to the symptoms each time they occur. This process can lead to chronic daily headaches or migraine episodes.

Excessive use of pain relievers can also cause additional headaches called rebound headaches.

Migraine with aura the risk of stroke in women, especially in those who take estrogen-based medications or smoke.

The symptoms of ocular migraine can make tasks such as driving, walking, reading, working, and caring for young children difficult. People who experience ocular migraine symptoms should stop what they are doing and rest until the symptoms have passed.

If a person experiences symptoms when driving, they should safely pull over to the side of the road and wait until they feel better to resume their journey.

Stress reducing tools such as acupuncture might help reduce the frequency of severe migraine episodes.

The treatment of ocular migraine usually focuses on preventing and reducing symptoms.

Erenumab (Aimovig) is a medication that blocks the activity of a molecule called the calcitonin gene-related peptide, which plays a role in migraine episodes.

Other medications that manufacturers developed for different conditions may also help prevent migraine symptoms. These include drugs for:

Doctors can also prescribe botulinum toxin A to help prevent chronic migraine. This medication requires a specialist's recommendation. Its other uses include treating spasms.

Some lifestyle changes and therapies may also reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches or episodes. These options include:

  • avoiding too much time looking at screens
  • dealing with stress using tools such as exercise, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and biofeedback mechanisms
  • tracking symptoms to find migraine triggers
  • losing weight if overweight
  • quitting smoking
  • eating regular meals
  • staying hydrated
  • establishing a consistent sleep schedule
  • limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • treating anxiety and depression with counseling and other options

Some medications may reduce migraine symptoms once they develop. In general, medications are more effective the sooner someone takes them after symptoms begin.

Over-the-counter analgesics, including aspirin, acetaminophen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can sometimes alleviate migraine symptoms.

If these medications fail, a person should speak to a doctor about prescription pain relievers.

Learn about other ways to cope with migraine in this article.