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Ocular Migraine: A Basic Understanding

Aug 17, 2007
Migraines are a neurological disorder of the brain. There are many different types of migraine. One of them is Ocular Migraine or known as Acephalalgic Migraine. The different types of migraine are classified according to the symptoms that a sufferer experience and their causes.

Ocular Migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by abnormal visual sensations, sometimes accompanied by headaches, nausea and vomiting. In some cases, the person may feel heightened sensitivity to sound and light at the early stages of the attack. This type of migraine is generally seen in people with a history of classical migraine.

Like other migraines, ocular migraine spells occur repeatedly and irregularly. That is, patients may experience many spells of ocular migraine within a week and nothing at all for months on end. The spells may last from 15-30 min in general.

Ocular migraine is to be distinguished with classical migraine or migraine with aura. In classical migraines, the aura can be a visual sensation (called visual aura) or something non-visual such as smell, dizziness, vertigo, parasthesia, or extremities. Generally aura is experienced by the patient after the prodrome, 10-30 minutes before the onset of the headache. Statistics show that nearly 20% of the migraineurs experiences aura.

Like in other migraines, the exact cause of ocular migraine is still a topic of debate. The most nearest and convincing explanation is that it is caused due to vascular spasm that affects the ocular blood vessel supplying blood to the vision center in the brain. Changes in the blood flow in the vessels cause the severe throbbing or pounding effects of headache.

It is believed that ocular migraine is triggered by over stress, oral contraceptives, premenstrual changes, alcohol, and certain victuals such as chocolate, red wine, chicken livers, meats preserved in nitrates, and milk.

As mentioned earlier, the most notable symptom of ocular migraine is the unusual visual sensations that block the normal vision to a large extent during the spell. At the earlier stages of an ocular migraine episode, the patient may experience a visual disturbance in his/her peripheral vision, mostly in the form of a jagged, shimmering, semicircular light, pale pastel in color. Within minutes, it expands and becomes more centric to the area of vision, leading to temporary patchy vision loss. Eventually, in another 15-30 minutes, the zigzag pattern travels outwards of the visual field and soon out of the side vision before disappearing completely, leaving the field of view clear again.

After the episode, the patient may feel fatigued and with/without a mild headache, but the eye sight will be normal as it was before.

Ocular migraines, in most instances, do not require any treatment. But the doctor may diagnose the patient to ensure that there is no serious blood flow issue.

In some cases, doctors may prescribe some painkiller to contain the following headache, if the pain is unbearable for the patient. But such instances are very rare.

Tail Piece: Even though it is true that ocular migraines can be controlled to an extent by adjusting the diet and reducing stress, it cannot be prevented or cured forever. Once an ocular migraine episode starts, the patient will have no choice, but to see himself/herself through those grueling 30 minutes, preferably with a calm mind. There is no use in panicking or getting worried. Relaxation techniques can be put to good use at this stage.
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