An ocular migraine, also known as a retinal migraine, is a condition that causes blindness or visual changes during or before a migraine headache. This condition can be more serious than the migraine auras that many people experience during migraine headaches. Here are five things you need to know about ocular migraines.

What are the signs of ocular migraines?

Retinal migraines cause either diminished vision or total blindness in one of your eyes. This phenomenon happens either before or during a migraine headache. The visual impairment is short-lived, but it can be a sign of more serious problems that aren't related to your headache.

How do they differ from migraine auras?

Migraine auras are a common problem that accompanies migraine headaches. These auras cause visual disturbances like flashes of light or zigzagging patterns either during or before your headache. Both eyes are affected by these auras, while retinal migraines only affect one eye. If only one of your eyes is affected during your migraine, you should assume that you are having a retinal migraine, and need to see your optometrist right away.

What causes ocular migraines?

Ocular migraines occur when your retina, the light-sensing tissue within your eye, doesn't get enough blood flow. This can be caused by spasms of the veins that supply blood to your retinas; these spasms can be caused by autoimmune diseases like lupus or antiphospolipid syndrome. Blood clotting abnormalities like low protein C or S levels can also be responsible. Blockages in the vessels that supply blood to your retina are another possible cause.

Can the vision loss be permanent?

Usually, the vision loss associated with ocular migraines is short-lived. However, in rare cases, ocular migraines can leave you permanently blind in the affected eye. This is why it's important to see your optometrist right away when you experience an ocular migraine.

How can your optometrist help?

You may be given medications like propranolol or nifedipine to treat your ocular migraines. These medications are high blood pressure medications but they can also help to treat ocular migraines that are caused by vascular spasms. Your optometrist may also give you amyl nitrate, a medication that is inhaled when ocular migraine symptoms start; this medication can help to speed up the resolution of your symptoms.

If you experience vision loss in only one eye during a migraine headache, see your optometrist right away for diagnosis and treatment.