Retinal Migraine: Headache for your eyes

Sid S

Published on July 23, 2021, 1:26 pm

Retinal Migraine: Headache for your eyes

Headaches suck. But do you know what’s worse? Migraine! And if you think that migraines are just intensely bad headaches, let me tell you that some of them are often accompanied by brief attacks of blindness. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

They are not like your regular migraines. They will wreak havoc on your vision and make you feel as if you are almost blind for a short while. This problem is known as a retinal migraine.

Although it’s relatively rare than other types of migraines, that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable unless you’re okay with seeing shimmery lights in your vision.

What is a Retinal Migraine?

Retinal migraine is a rare thing that brings pain and visual disturbances to one eye only before the headache starts. But, you may not always get a headache.

Certain medical conditions such as lupus and sickle cell disease increase the likelihood of retinal migraines in people. Since the vision changes are only reported in one eye, you must not let this problem go unresolved as monocular visual disturbance is a symptom of a cataract that could hamper your vision for life.

Symptoms of Retinal Migraine

Retinal migraine is the same as a regular migraine except you will experience temporary vision loss in one eye. It will happen repeatedly before the headache kicks in.

The visual disturbances are collectively given the name ‘aura’. It occurs due to the spasm in tiny blood vessels that lead to the eye.

Characteristics of a migraine visual aura include:

  • Seeing twinkling, flashing or sparkling light in the vision field
  • Shadow or dark curtain in vision
  • Partial loss of vision
  • Temporary blindness
  • Numb or tickling skin

The symptoms of retinal migraine may grow within minutes and may even last for 5 to 60 minutes. After the visual symptoms, the headache phase will begin.

The migraine headache may or may not spread to the other side of the head. And the pain could be either moderate or intense. Along with headaches, retinal migraine symptoms may also include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sound sensitivity

In some cases, the headache even persisted for a couple of hours or a few days. It’s still unknown as to how many people have retinal migraines as not everyone who has them reports the symptoms.

You can’t have a retinal migraine in both eyes. But if you do feel the symptoms in both peepers, this could be hinting towards some other vision-threatening problem.

Retinal Migraine Causes

Retinal Migraine Causes

Although the exact science behind a retinal migraine is still unknown, it’s believed that this problem arises due to vasospasm (narrowing of arteries of blood vessels leading to the eye).

As the pressure on the arteries reduces and blood vessels get to normal, the symptoms will fade away on their own. Eye experts believe that regular migraines affect vision when they trigger changes in retinal vessels.

While we don’t know what causes a retinal migraine aside from vasospasm, we suspect that the following activities may increase your chances of getting one:

  • Smoking
  • Dehydration
  • Hypertension
  • High blood sugar
  • Tobacco consumption
  • Intense workout
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Hot temperatures

Retinal migraines may also occur due to staring at screens for long hours. Some experts believe that exposure to blue light has tragic effects on the retina. So, if you already have migraines, use prescription blue light glasses when using a digital screen to avoid visual symptoms.

Not only this, performing visually taxing tasks such as driving long distances could also result in a retinal migraine.

How to Diagnose Retinal Migraine?

If you have the symptoms of retinal migraine and want to know whether you have this problem, do a little test. Close the eye you feel visual disturbances in and look around using the other eye. If things seem clear, then you most probably have a retinal migraine especially if the symptoms are followed by a headache.

However, you need a diagnostic test to solidify your doubt. So, it’s probably better to consult a doctor about your symptoms. The doctor will ask you questions regarding your personal and family’s medical history and perform a physical exam.

Some people have are more susceptible to retinal migraine including:

  • Individuals in their 20s or 30s, especially women
  • People with any other type of migraine
  • Those with a family history of migraine
  • Patients with lupus, sickle cell disease or atherosclerosis

Retinal Migraine Treatment Methods

Retinal Migraine Treatment Methods

The medications or treatment method your doctor prescribes depends on the patient’s age or how frequently they have migraine episodes.

However, if you rarely experience visual disturbance attacks or aura, then you might be prescribed medicines used for treating regular migraines. These medications include:

  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin to bring relief from pain and inflammation
  • Antidepressant drugs such as amitriptyline
  • Beta-blockers such as propranolol
  • Anti Nausea medicines to control nausea and vomiting

There is no one specific method to treat a retinal migraine. Your doctor will ask you about your individual triggers and prescribe medicines that address those triggers.

No matter if the retinal migraine is accompanied by a headache, you must consult an optician to get special lenses made for your vision needs.

Certain triggers such as blue light exposure and harsh environmental lights could lead to a retinal migraine. Thus, having a blue light coating or anti-glare filters on the prescription & non-prescription glasses lenses may save you from those brief and horrific attacks of visual problems.

Living with retinal migraine?

If you’re someone living with this problem, your point of focus should be to prevent migraine episodes that treating them with abortive medications.

Make sure you pay attention to the activities you were doing right before you had a retinal migraine. This will help you track down your individual triggers so you could avoid them and save yourself from awful pain.

For instance, if you figured that this problem occurs on the days you smoke, try to quit smoking. It’s also harmful to your eye health as eye specialists believe that those who smoke are at a higher risk of developing cataracts than those who have never done it.

It’s highly unlikely that a retinal migraine affects your visual acuity. However, regular eye exams are a way to ensure that your vision is safe.

You can have a quick and free eye test in the UK with our opticians. Anybody is welcome to get an eye test from Specscart either by booking an appointment online or calling us on our store’s number.

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