How Do Eyes Play a Role in Migraines?

28 August 2019

Author: Jacci

How Do Eyes Play a Role in Migraines?

Migraines affect around 1 in every 5 women and 1 in every 15 men.

For those who suffer with migraines, they know that it’s more than ‘just a headache’. They can actually be pretty debilitating, lasting for anything from 2–72 hours. 

By definition a migraine is a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head; which may or may not accompany nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to sound or light. 

You may have heard the term migraine with aura thrown around? This is when certain visual warning signs, such as flashing lights, will begin before the migraine sets in. It’s more common however to experience migraines without the aura. 

Today we are talking about ocular migraines, which can indicate more serious underlying issues.

What is an ocular migraine?


Ocular migraine affects around one in every 200 people who have migraines.

The term ocular migraine, otherwise known as retinal migraine, is defined by temporary vision loss or blindness in one eye; which can last for up to 30 minutes. This is caused by reduced blood flow in the retina or behind the eye. 

Ocular migraines should not be confused with migraine with aura, which affects both eyes with less severe disruption to vision. Loss of vision in one eye can be a sign of a more serious condition. Sudden or recurring vision loss requires medical assistance right away.

What are the symptoms of ocular migraine?

Regular eye examinations are important to diagnose ocular migraines and even more important to rule out more dangerous conditions that have similar symptoms. 

This is because ocular migraine symptoms are similar to those caused by an eye stroke. It’s vital to seek medical attention quickly if the following symptoms are experienced: 

  • Loss of vision
  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Flashing lights 
  • Blank spots 

Bear in mind that the same eye is affected every time in almost all cases and it is rare for an episode of vision loss to last longer than an hour. 

What causes ocular migraines?

Ocular migraines are more common in women, people over 40 and those with a family history.

Common causes of ocular migraine include:

  • Underlying diseases; such as lupus, sickle cell disease, epilepsy, antiphospholipid syndrome, and giant cell arteritis
  • Stress
  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood sugar
  • Excessive heat
  • Exercise
  • Smoking
  • Certain types of contraceptives

Can ocular migraines be treated?

Once serious eye diseases have been ruled out, a doctor may prescribe the following medicines to relieve the symptoms of ocular migraine:

  • Aspirin: to reduce pain and inflammation
  • A beta-blocker: to may help relax blood vessels
  • A calcium channel blocker: to help prevent blood vessels constricting
  • A tricyclic antidepressant 
  • Anti-epileptics  

There's a small risk that the reduced blood flow may cause damage to the retina (light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) and the blood vessels of the eye. This will be monitored during regular eye examinations.  If you are concerned about your eye health or experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, seek medical advice without delay.

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