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Rare Migraine Type Affects Vision

Migraines are a class of headache all their own, with intense flashes of pain, light sensitivity, and even nausea and dizziness. If you’re suffering from temporary vision loss in one or both eyes, a retinal migraine, or ocular migraine, might be to blame. This type of headache tends not to affect those who have never suffered a migraine before, while one in every two-hundred migraine sufferers will experience a retinal migraine. The headache affects the ocular nerves, and blood vessels to the eye. This causes vision disturbances, which can last for as long as an hour, although most patients report them passing within 30 minutes or less.

The retinal migraine is caused by a lack of blood flow to the surrounding area of the eye. This is sometimes due to the narrowing of blood vessels around the eyes due to a sudden change in altitude, low or high blood sugar, stress, temperature, or external factors such as cigarette smoking or prescription drugs. Some individuals experience the sensation when upside down, or by standing too quickly from a laying position. Medical News Today writes: “There are no diagnostic tests that detect a retinal migraine. A doctor may diagnose a retinal migraine by examining personal and family medical history, asking about symptoms, and conducting an examination. Other possible causes for the symptoms will be ruled out before a retinal migraine is diagnosed. It is important to investigate and rule out other causes of temporary blindness.”

Fortunately, when the vessels widen again and blood flow returns the vision loss halts. Following the visual disturbances, the headache portion of the migraine can last as long as three days.

Symptoms to Watch For

Other than the vision impairment, which accompanies the headache, retinal migraines can also include symptoms such as flashes of light, twinkling spots, or “seeing stars”. It will usually begin as a low pulsing throb, which could intensify in pain levels as it grows. As with standard migraines, retinal migraines announce themselves through the appearance of an aura. The telltale glow seen by migraine sufferers, announces itself five minutes before the actual migraine hits. The American Migraine Foundation reports: “There are no diagnostic tests to confirm retinal migraine. Diagnosis is accomplished by reviewing the patient’s personal and family medical history, studying their symptoms, and conducting an examination. Retinal migraine is then diagnosed by ruling out other causes for the symptoms. With retinal migraine, it is essential that other causes of transient blindness be fully investigated and ruled out.”

The usual migraine symptoms can be expected once the visual period of the retinal migraine has concluded. This generally means intense headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

Vision Loss

Not all retinal migraines cause full vision loss, or even affect both eyes. In some cases, only one eye loses sight, and in others, there are visual interruptions, blurriness, or other rarities, but not vision loss. The visual alterations tend to occur just before the pain occurs, providing a warning signal that medication and rest may be necessary.

Generally retinal migraines and the vision impairment associated with them, only affects those who are already prone to headaches and migraines. Individuals with certain medical diseases or heart health issues are also at risk. It is most common in those under the age of forty, although it can affect those who are older as well.

If you are experiencing symptoms that seem like they could be related to retinal migraines, contact your doctor as soon as possible. While retinal migraines are not a serious medical condition, there are other illnesses and disorders which could cause similar symptoms. Stroke, eye disease, or hemianopia could be at the root of vision impairment and head pain. Individuals who have received serious head trauma may also experience some of these symptoms, and your doctor should be able to rule this out by way of standard testing. Web MD explains: “It’s rare, but people who have these migraines may have a higher risk of permanent vision loss in one eye. Experts don’t know if medications that prevent migraines — such as tricyclic antidepressants or anti-seizuremedications — can help prevent that vision loss. But if you have ocular migraines, even if they go away on their own, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.”

The medications which are commonly prescribed for retinal migraines carry some side effects, which can lead to long term vision loss. Research has shown that permanent blindness following bouts of retinal migraines is highly rare, and most recover without any long-term trauma.

The headaches are still being studied to determine the best form of treatment. At the moment, sufferers can rely on over the counter pain medications, as well as some prescription drugs. These drugs are intended to work against the pain, and most patients report that the visual disturbances have passed before the medication begins working.

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