It’s probably been close to twenty years ago that I experienced my first ocular migraine. I had been suffering from monthly, common migraines since undergoing a tubal ligation, years earlier but I was totally unprepared for this new and unsettling experience.
I was at my mother’s house one afternoon when I noticed a subtle change in my vision. My sight was blurring and I saw slight “shimmering” lights in the middle of my field of vision. I could see but my view was distorted. I sat and watched as the shimmering became more pronounced and became jagged, lightning-like zigzags of flashing light that encompassed my eyesight. There was no pain and it left the way it began, gradually and lessening in intensity until my vision was restored. The entire episode lasted about twenty minutes.
At the time, I had been under a lot of stress and I chalked it up to just another symptom of the great deal of anxiety that I was feeling. Or perhaps it was due to the autonomic nervous system syndrome (dysautonomia) of which I had recently been diagnosed. In any case, I lived with it not knowing what it was until many years later when I finally was able to consult an eye specialist and received a diagnosis.
So it was no surprise when this past week, I found my eyes beginning to “shimmer” with those telltale jagged lights. I’ve been used to them showing up every couple of months or so…the only change being that they now seem to come in twos. I’ll have one and then a few days or so later, I’ll experience another one and then won’t have another for a while. Yes, I did have the second one like clockwork, but then surprisingly ended up having two more within a couple of days…two episodes back to back…four total. Now, that got my attention. This had never happened before. The weather had been socked in with a tropical storm for a few days and I wondered if the change in barometric pressure had brought them on. Sometimes weather conditions can have an effect on migraines. I was left with a faint headache as is usual for me.
Ocular migraines are also known as retina migraines, ophthalmic or eye migraines. They usually are a benign condition and resolve themselves within 30 minutes and don’t require medication. The underlying cause of this type of migraine is unknown. During imaging studies, it has been revealed that there are blood flow changes to the brain during ocular migraines (and the visual auras that can be a precursor of regular migraines). That kind of creeps me out. It is surmised that a mechanism deep in the brain is triggered which releases inflammatory substances around the nerves and blood vessels of the head and brain but why it begins and ends spontaneously is a mystery.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that migraines “almost certainly” have a genetic basis, and other studies say 70 per cent of people who suffer from the disorder have a family history of migraine headaches. As far as I know, no one else in my family has suffered from these types of headache.
Certain foods can bring on migraines (including ocular) such as aged cheeses, red wine, smoked meats, chocolate, caffeinated drinks and some food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners. Sometimes bright, flickering lights, emotional stress, strong odors and lack of sleep can trigger an attack also.
I’m happy to report that my “regular”, painful and debilitating migraines ended along with my periods. What a blessing; I wouldn’t wish those on anyone. Perhaps one day I’ll be done with these eye disturbances as well.