How a Migraine Affects Vision

How a Migraine Affects Vision

How a Migraine Affects Vision

Migraine is a common neurological condition occurring in at least 15 to 20 percent of the population and in up to 50 percent of women.

Classic migraine starts with visual symptoms (often zigzag lines, colored lights or flashes of light expanding to one side of your vision over 10 to 30 minutes), followed by a single-sided pounding, severe headache. Along with the headache, you may have nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity.

Common migraine may cause only a headache felt on both sides of the head. Many people who thought their headaches were due to stress, tension or sinus pain may actually have this form of migraine.

Ocular migraine

Some people experience flashes of light that look like jagged lines or “heat waves” in both eyes, often lasting 10 to 20 minutes. These types of flashes are usually caused by a spasm of blood vessels in the brain. If a headache follows the flashes, it is called a migraine headache.

However, you can experience the jagged lines or heat wave flashes and not have a headache. In this case, the light flashes are called ophthalmic migraine, or migraine without headache. Contact your ophthalmologist if you experience these symptoms.

While it is not clear exactly how a migraine works, it is believed that it is caused by an abnormality in an important chemical used by our brain cells called serotonin. During a migraine attack, changes in serotonin affect blood vessels in your brain, often causing the vessels to constrict or tighten. These changes in blood flow reduce the oxygen supply to the brain. If this oxygen supply is decreased long enough, it is possible to have a stroke. Fortunately, this is rare.

Certain foods may trigger a migraine attack, including aged cheese, nitrates (often found in cured meats, hot dogs and other processed foods), chocolate, red wine, monosodium glutamate (usually called MSG, a flavor enhancer frequently found in some foods), caffeine, aspartame (the artificial sweetener found in NutraSweet®) and alcohol.

Among women, hormonal changes are often migraine triggers — especially pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and menstrual periods or menopause. People often think their migraines are due to stress. While stress probably does not cause migraine, it may affect how often attacks occur. Interestingly, however, most migraine attacks seem to happen following stress relief, often at the beginning of a weekend or vacation.

People who experience migraine often have a family history of headaches or a prior history of motion sickness.


To learn more about Ocular Migraine visit EyeSmart.

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