Shattered Vision

     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.

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20 Comments

  1. Oh, Gayle. We have lots in common in the migraine department. I’m having one of the head-pain ones now. I don’t get the ocular ones that often, but they happen sometimes. Genetics, stress, and weather are all factors. I don’t consume any of the common triggers, and still they come. I know it’s all interwoven with inflammation and my wonky immune system.

    The good news is that we both have found ways to work through or around these challenges so that we can express the creativity the wants to flow from our hearts and heads.

    We may not always feel great, but we can always be well!

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    • Well, Lorna, I hope that you will one day be free from those painful “head” migraines. They were so debilitating. I realize now that I have nervous system “issues” that have been a part of me since childhood. It has helped to know that there are physical components to the cause.

      And you’re so right we both have learned to adapt to and work with what we’ve got…as much as we can. Thanks, Lorna.

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  2. OMG – Gayle,
    I am so sorry. I do hope you take lots of time to rest. It’s wonderful to go out for an early morning stroll. It lifts my spirits and loosens all those overnight kinks. Listen to me … lolol
    I sound a bit old. hahaha … really, do something relaxing. It is the best medicine. We’ll miss you during the rest times but they are necessary. You have some special upcomings that need you to be there. I wish you a good rest, my dear friend.
    Namaste,
    Izzy xoxo

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    • Thanks, Izzy…actually I think you and I are close in age…haha. But I do appreciate your motherly advice. I feel like I’m getting plenty of rest…and if I need a nap some days, I take them. But really these things don’t make me tired..they pass quickly and usually don’t have any lasting effects at all. Speaking of “up-comings”…my daughter’s baby shower is this weekend. My mother, sister and I are going over to Sebastian to spend the weekend and enjoy ourselves. I’m looking forward to it.

      Thank you for your sweet concern, my friend.

      Namaste… xoxo

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  3. Oh Wow! I did not know of this form of migraine but suffered for years, since my early teens with the debilitating form that would leave me taking alternating analgesics and vomiting and curled up on the floor or bed in a ball just to get through them. They would last for 8 to 14 hours and nothing but a dark room and laying completely still would lessen the pain. One day a friend of mine, who was a nurse was with me when I began to experience one. She told me that 80% of migraines were from food allergies. I do not know if this is true but that is what she said. I had always marked it up as stress or doing too much. She helped me set up a categorized journal and get started. This is what we found. Exposure, long term, to bright sun(I was a horse trainer and would go to two day shows that required that I be exposed and overheated for long periods of time), raw onions, MSG, artificial sweeteners(includes all those diet drinks!), and the major culprit was that peanuts and that included peanut butter. Once I eliminated all of these? No more migraines! That was 30 years ago. I mention this to my friends who suffer from them and they are not willing to even try. I usually get the response, “I’ve tried everything.” …even when I tell them it took me a year of journaling to find each culprit to my migraines. You eliminate one and go in search of another and Voil! One day you are migraine free. I wish this kind of search could help with yours but I do not know enough about it. I had to log my activities, as well, and it took my doctor to figure out, with the aid of my journal, that exposure to bright sunlight was probably the last ticket to relieving mine (and it was). He said that with my having been a lifeguard for years I had probably suffered from heat exhaustion at some point and that is a big precursor to get set up for sun sensitivities later in life.

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    • I have no doubt that migraines can be brought on or caused by all sorts of physical or stress-related circumstances..including food sensitivities. I’m glad you found the answer to your problem, Leslie. I had a bad reaction to MSG in my early twenties and have avoided it since. I don’t drink diet drinks either. One of my brothers said he had an ocular migraine come on after drinking something with aspartame in it. I avoid that too.. My “head” migraines were definitely caused by fluctuations of my monthly hormones…like clockwork. There are others who have had very negative physical side effects from having tubal ligations…I was one of them. Like I said, once my periods stopped, the migraines went away. I haven’t had one since. As far as the eye thing goes..they happen so infrequently that it’s hard to pinpoint what’s bringing them on. And as long as they don’t bother me or become more frequent..I can live with them.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with me, Leslie. I was surprised to learn of the connection with over exposure to the sun. Certainly grew up here in Florida with lots of exposure to sun..too much. I do feel very sensitive to heat these days myself. So thanks for that bit of awareness too.

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  4. Wow, I had no idea about these kinds of migraines. I can count the number of migraines I have had in my life on one hand (thank goodness!) and like you, wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. I do think they run in families (my aunt suffered terribly from them) and that stress cannot be underestimated. So glad you at least got a diagnosis! And of course, glad you’re feeling better. Congrats on the daughter’s good fortune! 🙂 Have fun!

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    • Yes, thank goodness you have had so few of them, Corina. I don’t really know if my aunts or uncles…or cousins have suffered from migraines.. And no, you can’t underestimate the effects of stress…it just makes any physical suffering that much worse. Thanks for your input too and for the congrats…I appreciate it. I will enjoy myself for sure!

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  5. ouch…well i am glad the regular migraines are gone and i can only hope that the occular ones are lettingup a bit for you since this was a week ago….i know a few that have them and they can be quite debilitating…

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    • Oh, yes, they’re gone…they only last about 20 minutes and then clear up with mostly no after effects at all. The common ones with the severe head pain are no picnic. I sure feel for all who suffer them.

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  6. Sorry you’ve had to struggle with this, Gayle, but glad you have found some relief, especially through your writing and spirit.

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    • Thanks for coming by, Diane…have been sporadic with my writing lately but always enjoy your visits. Thought I would share my experiences and let people know there are others out there with similar troubles. While strange, these eye migraines don’t really bother me.

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  7. Thank you for sharing, Gayle. Although today I’ve been fighting a headache all day it is not of this sort. But I did begin having Ocular migraines in the last two years now. I had my first one at work with wavy lines in my periphreal vision which isn’t good when trying to read a computer screen. The whole episode does last about 15-20 minutes and then decreases and is gone. At first I was a bit put back but as I work in the insurance industry processing medical claims I looked it up right away and found out what it was. I have them very rarely but they are odd things. Glad yours are in the past.

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    • No, they’re not in the past. I still have the ocular variety, it’s the head-pounding killer migraines that are gone now. They are strange though aren’t they. Mine “sparkle” with zig-zagging lines…odd indeed. Hope your headache is cleared up by now, Renee.

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  8. What a horrible, horrible experience. So frightening. So these would not be hormonal, though the regular migrains were. I stopped getting migrains after hysterectomy.

    I hope these others will go their way soon. You certainly seem to have done our homework. Impressed with that.

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    • Yes, pretty strange…never underestimate the power of our bodies to mess with us! No, these are not hormone-based like the regular ones most certainly were. Fortunate for you, Jamie, that yours ended too. They just about did me in…

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  9. Sarah

     /  February 13, 2014

    Hi there, I actually came across your page while searching for possible links between ocular migraines and dysautonomias. Can I ask what kind of dysautonomia you have been diagnosed with? Kind Regards, Sarah

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