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It can be disturbing the first time you experience the flashing lights, shimmering stars or blind spots in your field of vision. These visual distortions are the hallmark of an ocular migraine. Most people associate migraine with intense throbbing pain that occurs on one or both sides of the head, but occasionally a migraine sufferer may experience an ocular migraine without headache. These so-called silent migraines often occur in individuals who have experienced painful migraine headaches in the past.
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Ocular migraine is an imprecise term that is often used to describe a migraine that is accompanied by visual disturbances. There are two conditions that are often described as an ocular migraine, according to the Mayo Clinic. The first condition is a migraine aura that affects your vision. The second and potentially more serious condition that is often referred to as an ocular migraine is actually a retinal migraine.
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A migraine aura is a sensory warning that precedes a migraine headache in some people. A migraine aura that disrupts your vision generally lasts less than an hour. You may see zigzagging lines, flashing geometric shapes, sparkles or a blind spot that may gradually move across your field of vision. This type of ocular migraine will affect both eyes. In some cases, as the aura subsides and normal vision returns the migraine headache will emerge, and may be accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. In other cases the painful aspect of the migraine never develops, resulting in an ocular migraine without headache. This type of complicated migraine may also be called an acephalgic migraine, according to the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology.
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The symptoms of a retinal migraine are very similar to a migraine aura that affects your vision. You may see the same type of visual disturbance, but only in one eye. Similarly, the visual disturbances that characterize a retinal migraine may precede a painful headache, but not always. According to the Mayo Clinic, the visual disturbance associated with a retinal migraine may not be caused by a migraine. If you have vision loss or a visual disturbance in just one eye, you should contact your doctor immediately to rule out more serious conditions such as a retinal detachment, retinal tear, or a posterior vitreous detachment that can have a lasting effect on your vision.
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The causes of migraines are not fully understood, and in some cases the language used to describe them is inconsistent. If you are experiencing migraine symptoms, particularly the symptoms of an ocular migraine without headache, consult with your physician to rule out more serious conditions and develop a treatment plan. Migraines can be set off by a variety of different triggers, according to WebMD, such as hormones, fatigue, stress, food sensitivities or your environment. Record the circumstances around each migraine attack in a headache journal to make it easier for you and your doctor to treat your migraine symptoms, suggests the Georgia Department of Community Health.