Ocular migraines can be described as a related group of conditions, all affecting vision, usually temporary, and sometimes without pain. The causes of these migraines are still under debate. Ocular migraines are more common in women of childbearing years who have a history of migraines with auras, and for whom the diagnosis is one of exclusion (a diagnosis reached by process of elimination). There are two types of ocular migraine: ophthalmic (migraine with aura) and retinal migraines. Ophthalmic, or visual, migraines are thought to result from abnormal electrical activity slowly spreading across certain regions of the outer brain cortex. They affect both eyes.
This is responsible for the development of the slowly progressing visual changes, usually over 20 to 60 minutes. These migraines are also known as scintillating scotomas.
In retinal migraines, the visual symptoms take place in the retina rather than across the outer brain cortex. They occur in only one eye, before or during the headache phase. The disturbance in retinal migraine may also result from the abnormal spreading of electrical activity, except it occurs in the retina. The disturbance may also be due to reduced retinal blood flow. A migraine headache results in moderate to severe headaches and lasts for 4 to 72 hours with a number of connected symptoms. It may be tied to family genetic traits and triggered by certain foods, stress, or environmental factors that affect the proper functioning of the cerebral cortex.
Migraines with aura cause no permanent visual or brain damage and do not require treatment. Retinal migraines, on the other hand, have more potential for long-term vision loss. Either way, getting evaluated and monitored by your eye doctor is highly recommended to rule out other concerns.