What is an ocular migraine? Is it a sign of something serious?

Answers from Jerry W. Swanson, M.D.

The term "ocular migraine" can be confusing. It generally means a headache that's accompanied by changes in vision. But the term is often used interchangeably to refer to two different conditions: migraine aura, which usually isn't serious, and retinal migraine, which could signal something serious.

Migraine aura affecting your vision

Ocular migraine sometimes describes a migraine aura that involves your vision. Migraine auras include a variety of sensations that are often visual. Auras may also include other sensations, such as numbness, that precede or accompany a migraine. Aura can sometimes occur without a headache.

A migraine aura that affects your vision is common. Visual symptoms don't last long. A migraine aura involving your vision will affect both eyes, and you may see:

  • Flashes of light
  • Zigzagging patterns
  • Blind spots
  • Shimmering spots or stars

These symptoms can temporarily interfere with certain activities, such as reading or driving, but the condition usually isn't considered serious.

Retinal migraine

Ocular migraine sometimes is used as a synonym for the medical term "retinal migraine." A retinal migraine is a rare condition occurring in a person who has experienced other symptoms of migraine. Retinal migraine involves repeated bouts of short-lasting, diminished vision or blindness. These bouts may precede or accompany a headache.

A retinal migraine — unlike a migraine aura — will affect only one eye, not both. But usually, loss of vision in one eye isn't related to migraine. It's generally caused by some other more serious condition. So if you experience visual loss in one eye, be sure to see a doctor right away for prompt treatment.

Aug. 10, 2017