By Joe Schneiderhan, O.D., Optometrist
Headaches afflict everyone, from migraine headaches to cluster headaches or those caused by tension or sinus pressure. Migraines are especially known for being life-altering and debilitating, but you may not be as familiar with ocular migraines.
Migraine headaches can linger for hours or even days if untreated—interrupting daily routines. Those who suffer from migraines are familiar with its symptoms: severe throbbing or pulsing pain that often comes with nausea, vomiting, and light/sound sensitivity. In some cases, a warning “aura” occurs, bringing visual issues—light flashes and blind spots that slowly spread. Not all those who experience migraines have the same symptoms.
An ocular migraine varies in its symptoms, depending on the person. It’s caused by the swelling of the blood vessels in the eye’s optic nerve, leading to visual distortions. Unlike standard migraines, ocular migraines are often not as painful, and the onset period is compared to looking through a kaleidoscope. It can include an aura that lasts about half an hour; if a headache follows, it’s usually within minutes to half an hour after the aura. Triggers can include stress, chocolate, caffeine, or even medications.
If this hasn’t been previously diagnosed by your primary physician or eye doctor, it could be a sign of a serious, underlying condition such as retinal detachment or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which could be a risk factor for a stroke or another systemic health problem. Be sure to follow up with your primary care provider or eye doctor.
Relief is available for headache and migraine pain, but if your symptoms come on quickly or are out-of-the-ordinary for you, contact your doctor to rule out other health conditions. Generally, if you’re experiencing headaches, keep a record of them, including how you treated them. Bring this record to your doctor, discuss your symptoms, and learn your treatment options.
If you suffer from headaches or if you know someone who does—whether at home or in the workplace—be considerate and patient. Allow them space to rest, or even encourage them to go home if they’re at work, so they can get the quiet they need to recover.
Learn more about different types of headaches, including those that are more rare but potentially serious.