Visual Migraines

Have you ever noticed something strange going on with your vision, such as a blind spot that grew into a blurry area or aura of shimmering lights? Did it seem to come out of nowhere and go away after about 20 minutes? If so, you could be experiencing a visual or ocular migraine. You may have little or no headache associated with this experience, but it is still actually a migraine.

The causes of visual migraines are the same as with migraine headaches. They can be brought on by fatigue, stress, or even changes in estrogen levels. They can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen (such as Advil, Motrin or Aleve), but often the resulting headache, if any, recedes before the medication can take effect. In any event, if you are experiencing visual migraines, you should consult your doctor or ophthalmologist to rule out any underlying problems and discuss treatment options.

The visual disturbance you notice is called an aura or positive scotoma (a scotoma is a blind spot, and a positive scotoma means there is something visible in the blind spot). In patients who experience painful migraine headaches, the aura may precede the headache by about half an hour. For those who have little or no headache, you experience only the aura. It often begins as a spot or blind spot which progresses into a circle or crescent shape of shimmering light or wavy, zig-zaggy lines.

During the worst part of the episode, you may have difficulty with your overall vision. Reading or working on a computer may be impossible, and driving is inadvisable. During a visual disturbance, relax, close your eyes, and wait for the episode to end. Bright lights and sounds may make you feel worse. If you are taking medication for your migraine, take it right away, as soon as you notice the onset of the aura. It should go away within about half an hour, although this varies from person to person. When the aura disappears, it may go away very quickly and before you know it your vision is back to normal.

Visual disturbances account for about 99% of auras. However, there is also a sensory aura which consists of tingling or numbness in your hands or feet, a feeling of weakness and even slurred speech. Visual and sensory auras usually occur by themselves, but it is possible to experience both. Again, make note of any related experience to share with your physician.

Again, this is a very common condition but experiencing it for the first time may be frightening. Remember you are not alone, and if you think you are having visual migraines, talk to your doctor about your experience and what you can do to feel better.

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