Woman sitting alone and stressed

Know the Difference: Ocular Migraines vs. Visual Migraines

There are over a dozen different types of migraines, and while none of them are pleasant, some are definitely more dangerous than others.  One of the more threatening types is the “ocular migraine,” which can potentially lead to permanent vision loss in the affected eye.  Unfortunately, the term “ocular migraine” is often used interchangeably and confused with the term “visual migraine” when referring to visual disturbances. This confusion can be dangerous as they are in fact two different migraine types, with the visual migraines being much more common and relatively harmless.  Visual migraines will typically cause visual disturbances in both eyes and occur alone or just before a regular migraine headache; lasting only about 30 minutes. 

On the other hand, the specific visual symptoms of ocular migraines affect only one eye, can occur alone, or during/after a regular migraine headache, and can take up to an hour to dissipate…however, the long-term damage can be severe.  As previously mentioned, they can potentially lead to permanent vision loss in that eye, but they can also have symptoms that mimic those of other medical conditions, including a stroke.  For this reason, if your visual symptoms (including vision loss or blindness, auras, flashing lights, and/or blind spots, etc.) are in only one eye, you should see a physician immediately to determine the root cause of your symptoms and rule out the possibility of a stroke or another medical condition.

Be cognizant of your surroundings and actions when you are experiencing visual disturbances of any kind.  If driving or performing another task requiring clear vision, take precautions.  Stop what you are doing and rest your body and eyes until your vision has returned to a normal state.  Never drive while experiencing visual changes, but always be sure to get off to the side of the road safely and to a safe distance rather than stopping in an unsafe manner.

A simple way to tell the difference between an ocular migraine and a visual migraine is to cover one eye at a time; if the visual disturbances are occurring in both eyes, chances are it’s a harmless visual migraine. However, if the visual disturbances are only occurring in one eye, it’s most likely an ocular migraine.

Visual Disturbance Symptoms of Ocular and Visual Migraines can include:

  • Flashes or flickering of light in or near the center of your field of vision
  • A noticeable blind spot that moves across your field of vision
  • Wavy or zigzag patterned ring of light (sometime occurring around a blind spot)
  • Auras
  • The appearance of shimmering spots or stars
  • Loss of vision

Click here to learn more about ocular vs. visual migraines, including what may cause them and possible prevention and treatment practices.