All About Retinal Migraines: How Losing Your Vision Can Impact Your Way of Life

What is Retinal Migraine?

Retinal Migraine is also known as Ocular Migraine.  This is a rare condition characterized by temporary vision loss in one eye. Vision usually returns to normal within one hour and can occur along with a migraine headache.

Retinal migraine is often confused or used interchangeably with visual auras.  To be clear, retinal migraines are most often associated with vision loss in one eye, whereas visual aura is temporary vision loss in both eyes about 30 minutes to 1 hour before a migraine attack.

**If vision loss is a new symptom for you, please seek medical attention immediately.  This could be a sign of a life threatening disorder. 

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Retinal Migraine Symptoms

Retinal migraine symptoms include vision changes or blindness in one eye.  This temporary loss of vision usually appears normal within one hour. Usually the vision loss appears as a small central blind spot in the area of vision that starts small and gets larger, until full vision loss in one eye.  The blind spot can also start in the peripheral vision as well.

Then, the migraine pain may start.  In some cases, no migraine head pain is present.  There may also be associated symptoms that typically occur with any migraine disorder.

Other Associated Symptoms with Retinal migraine:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Sensitivity to Light

  • Sensitivity to Sound

  • Difficulty concentrating

What Causes Retinal Migraine?

Retinal Migraine is caused by constriction of the blood vessels to the retina, this causes a decrease in blood flow to the back of the eye.  The decreased blood flow causes the change or loss in vision.  Afterwards, the blood vessels relax, and the blood flow returns to the eye.  The return of blood flow causes the vision to be restored.

Retinal migraines can be triggered by a variety of things and each person is different.

Retinal migraines can be triggered by:

  • Stress

  • High blood pressure

  • Dehydration

  • Low blood sugar

  • Excessive Heat

  • Strong Odors

  • Exercise

  • Caffeine

  • Alcohol

  • Age or Fermented Foods

  • Food Additives like MSG, nitrates, and aspartame

  • Bright Lights

  • Hormones

  • Irregular sleep schedule

To understand what is causing or triggering ocular migraines, it may be a good idea to keep a migraine diary.  There, you can keep track of your migraines and are able to pinpoint any patterns or potential causes.

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Risk Factors for Retinal Migraine 

There are always things that can put you at a greater risk of developing a certain health condition.

These risk factors include:

  • Women

  • Under 40 years old

  • Family History of migraines or headaches

  • Other underlying diseases such as lupus, sickle cell disease, epilepsy, and atherosclerosis

Is Retinal Migraine Life Threatening or Dangerous? 

Retinal migraine is not dangerous.  In fact, long term damage to the eye is very rare.

**It is important to note, new onset of vision loss is a medical emergency and could be an indicator of a potentially life threatening disease.

However, when it comes to retinal migraine, it is not a sign of serious problem with the eyes.  Vision is normally restored within one hour.

It is a good idea to have an eye examination done by an ophthalmologist to rule out any other potential causes for vision loss in one eye.

Diagnosis of Retinal Migraine

There are no specific tests for diagnosis of retinal migraine. However, if you are able to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist during an attack, they may use an ophthalmoscope to check for decreased blood flow to the affected eye.  This however is not always able to happen.

Typically, doctors will make a diagnosis based on the symptoms reported, perform an examination, and review both personal past medical history and family history of migraines.


Treatment and Prevention Of Retinal Migraine

Doctors will typically treat retinal migraine in a similar way as other migraine disorders by using rescue medication and preventative medication.  These type of medications are especially helpful if the retinal migraine is accompanied by a migraine headache pain or other debilitating associating symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and so forth.

Rescue medication, also known as abortive medication, is the medication you take at the first sign of an attack.  This can include both over the counter and prescription medication.

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