Most of us think of Migraine as a condition that causes painful headaches, a feeling of sickness, and sensitivity to light. You reach for the painkillers and just want to go lie down in a dark room until it passes. We don’t really know what causes migraines. They're known to be triggered by periods, stress, tiredness and certain foods or drinks, and you may be able to reduce their frequency by avoiding the things that cause them. But that is not always possible.
Migraine Visual Aura (ocular migraine) is remarkably common, and involves episodes of passing visual disturbance – such as bright spots, zig-zag lights, or a watery effect in your vision – affects both eyes, and is still present with your eyes closed.
This visual aura can occur alongside migraine headache, or can equally present without headache.
They typically last for 15 to 30 minutes, and your vision then returns to normal.
Often, the symptoms of ocular migraine begin near the centre of vision as either a bright spot or area of visual loss (called scotoma) that spreads to involve one-quarter or one-half of the visual field. Zigzag lines or other shapes may also appear. For some people, these shapes resemble the walls of a medieval fortress. In fact, the term "fortification spectrum" is used by neurologists to describe it.
A visual aura is thought to be an electrical or chemical wave that spreads over the area of the brain responsible for vision (called spreading depression). Spreading depression may also affect other areas of the brain, causing other non-visual symptoms, for example people sometimes experience tingling and prickling sensations in a limb or face if areas of the brain that relate to sensation are involved. Similarly, language disturbances or weakness of one side of the body occurs if corresponding areas of the brain are involved.
Migraine Visual Aura is generally harmless. The visual disturbances may temporarily interfere with certain daily activities such as reading or driving, but the condition usually is not considered serious.
If you are a sufferer of frequent migraine headaches there are many medicines that you can buy from your pharmacy without troubling your GP. Sometimes it is necessary to treat migraine with prescription medicines, and you should consult your GP if over-the-counter remedies are not effective.
Talking to my patients, I have frequently been told that – at the very first sign of migraine, if you drink a pint of water it can nip the symptoms in the bud! That’s definitely worth a try.
Equally many people find that they are less susceptible to migraines if they wear photochromic (light sensitive) glasses.
If you are unsure about any eye related symptom – please arrange an eye examination with your Optometrist. The advice and reassurance can make all the difference.