What Is An Ocular Migraine?

A person suffering from an ocular migraine.

Are you experiencing sudden visual disturbances in one of your eyes? And do they come with discomfort or headaches? Then you may be dealing with an ocular or retinal migraine. But what exactly is an ocular migraine?

These unique migraines are a type of headache that can impact your vision and even cause vision loss in one of your eyes in severe cases. Of course, this can be a little more than concerning when you first experience it. Fortunately, in most cases, these migraines aren’t anything to worry about.

Nonetheless, we’ve put this guide together to explain what an ocular migraine is, its symptoms, and some risk factors or triggers you may want to avoid to steer clear of this uncomfortable condition. So, if you want to be migraine-free, then let’s jump right into it.

What Are Ocular Migraines?

An ocular migraine, also known as an ophthalmic or retinal migraine, is a type of migraine headache that can cause temporary visual disturbances that affect one of your eyes. These retinal migraine symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include flashing lights, zigzagging patterns, a blind spot, a shimmering spot, or even temporary vision loss.

In some cases, these visual symptoms are also referred to as a visual aura, meaning the sensory disturbances that precede (or sometimes accompany) the migraine headache.

Unlike typical migraines, ocular migraines primarily affect your visual system and can lead to changes in your vision without necessarily causing severe head pain. However, some people usually experience some form of headache or migraine before, during, or after the visual attack.

The visual symptoms of retinal migraines usually only last for a short duration, though, and are typically less than an hour. Normally, they will also resolve on their own but can be incredibly difficult to deal with during the episode itself.

For example, some people experience a blind spot in the center of their vision, which can make it difficult to see properly. Additionally, your peripheral or side vision could be badly affected.

How serious is a retinal migraine?

It’s important to remember that while ocular migraines aren’t always associated with any serious complications, they can mimic other serious conditions such as central retinal artery occlusion or a transient ischemic attack (TIA) which require emergency medical attention.

To receive an ocular migraine diagnosis, you will need to undergo an eye exam. You may also need other neurological testing, imaging studies, and blood tests to rule out other possibilities for your visual disturbances.

Causes And Risk Factors

There are several reasons that you may be experiencing ocular migraines, with some of the most common factors being hormonal and environmental changes, as well as (of course) eye strain.

Below, we’ve listed a more comprehensive list of the main causes and risk factors that can result in these uncomfortable visual symptoms. That way, you may be able to pinpoint what is causing your migraine headaches.

Changes in blood vessels

Although the root cause of ocular migraines isn’t well-known, one of the primary reasons is believed to be caused by changes in blood flow or spasms of blood vessels in the retina or behind your eye. When these sudden vascular changes happen, they can lead to temporary disruptions in your vision and potentially cause the same pain as migraine headaches.

You can think of this like a cramp – it’s painful, but it’s usually over quickly and can range from mildly uncomfortable to downright agonizing.

Genetic factors

While research on the subject is still ongoing, there have been plenty of studies to suggest that genetic factors and predispositions can also play a role in ocular migraines. If you have a family history of migraine headaches, then you may be more susceptible to getting them, too.

While it’s not guaranteed that you will experience migraines, having a family history of them does increase your risk of suffering from them at some point in time.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women, are another potential cause of ocular migraines. In fact, a hormonal imbalance or extreme fluctuations like those experienced during menstruation, menopause, or pregnancy can increase the chances of suffering from this type of migraine. Usually, these changes will only trigger a migraine in people who are already susceptible to chronic headaches.


Migraines can affect everyone, so while this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, most people who suffer from ocular migraines are between the ages of 30 and 39. So, if all of the other risks and causes have been ruled out and you’re still experiencing a painful retinal migraine, then it may simply be because of your age.

As the eye ages, it strains more to see. Therefore, this age-induced headache could also be closely related to eye strain. It’s important to remember to check up on your eye health regularly to avoid this, as well as pick the perfect pair and type of glasses to suit you and your needs.

Environmental triggers

In some cases, a retinal migraine can be triggered by something as simple as a change in environment. Some of these changes include:

  • Stress
  • Bright or flashing lights
  • Changes in the weather or altitude
  • Dehydration
  • Skipping meals
  • Consuming certain foods or beverages (like alcohol or caffeine)
  • Having the wrong prescription for your glasses or using the incorrect type of glasses (Tip: Check out our blog on how to choose the perfect pair of glasses to avoid this.)

Eye strain

Eye strain is the root of several common eye conditions, including retinal migraine headaches. And this couldn’t be more true with the current digital climate. In fact, one of the leading causes of eye strain is using electronic devices for prolonged periods.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, digital screens emit a blue light, which has been linked to disruptions in sleep patterns and an increase in eye discomfort. This is why excessive exposure to blue light can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and cause eye strain, leading to a retinal migraine.

Luckily, you can avoid this altogether with Felix Gray’s range of blue light glasses. You can also learn more about how blue light glasses work on our blog.

Another factor that contributes to digital eye strain is prolonged periods of focus. Staring at digital screens for hours on end can cause eye fatigue, dryness, and discomfort.

In turn, this can lead to strained eye muscles, blurred vision, and – you guessed it – headaches. But with the right glasses, like computer reading glasses, you can protect your eye health – even when you’re staying up late because of that pesky work deadline!


What can trigger an ocular migraine?

There are several factors that can trigger an ocular migraine. Sometimes, it may be caused by a specific eye condition, but this isn’t always the case. Still, some of the most common triggers include stress, hormonal changes, bright or flashing lights, drinking alcohol (particularly red wine), dietary triggers, and poor sleep.

Of course, these aren’t the only triggers that can cause ocular migraines. If you suffer from these migraine headaches, it’s important to keep a log of when you experience them to help you narrow down what causes your migraines. That way, you can avoid your individual triggers or seek help from a health professional if they can’t be avoided.

What is the fastest way to cure an ocular migraine?

Unfortunately, there isn’t an instant way to cure an ocular migraine. However, there are some steps you can take to ease the pain and take care of your eye health. Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is rest your eyes in a quiet, dark room until your vision returns to normal. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen to help alleviate the head pain.

Additionally, you can take any medications that your doctor has prescribed for this condition or use these tips to reduce digital eye strain if they’re caused by electronics. This is particularly important if you aren’t able to rest your eyes at the time that you’re experiencing the pain.

What is the difference between a visual migraine and an ocular migraine?

The terms ‘visual’ and ‘ocular’ migraines are often used interchangeably, but they can be used to refer to different conditions. Typically, the term visual migraine refers to any headache that can cause a temporary change in your vision.

On the other hand, an ocular migraine specifically involves attacks on your vision and affects just one eye. They are also usually accompanied by migraine headaches. While visual migraine symptoms can affect both eyes, ocular migraines will generally only affect one eye and are temporary, lasting less than an hour in most cases.

Final Thoughts

Although they’re not always serious, ocular migraines can be a real challenge to manage because of their unpredictable nature and potential impact on your vision. But, by identifying the causes and risk factors associated with these migraines, you can start taking some proactive steps to reduce not only their frequency but their severity, too!

Just remember: Prioritizing your eye health and seeking out medical attention when it’s necessary can make a huge difference to your overall well-being.