Migraines are one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting over 30 million people in the U.S. alone. These painful, debilitating headaches can last anywhere from four to seventy-two hours, typically starting on one side of the head and progressing to the other. If you’re seeing stars (or lines, or zigzags), you likely have a type of migraine called an ocular migraine. Learn about ocular migraine symptoms and treatment below.
An ocular migraine occurs when the sufferer experiences a visual disturbance, such as flashing lights, “shimmering”, “stars”, “lines”, “zigzags”, blind spots, or in some cases, total blindness in one eye. Some patients describe seeing psychedelic images. Ocular migraines typically only last for 30 minutes to an hour, but they are often extremely severe and inhibit patients’ ability to read, write, work, or drive.
Both ocular and classic migraine headaches appear to be triggered by activation of a mechanism deep in the brain, which releases inflammatory substances around the brain’s nerves and blood vessels. Imaging studies have revealed changes in blood flow to the brain during ocular migraines, but exactly why this happens remains unknown. It is known, however, that migraines have a genetic basis. Some studies say up to 70 percent of people who suffer from migraines have a family history of the disorder.
Ocular migraines seem to be influenced by the estrogen hormone, which controls brain chemicals that affect the sensation of pain. In women, estrogen is influenced by menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapies. Therefore, medications which help keep estrogen levels stable might also help to reduce ocular migraines.
Although there is no “cure” for ocular migraines, there are several ways they can be treated. If NSAID medications do not provide any relief, your doctor can prescribe beta blockers to relax your blood vessels, or calcium channel blockers, which can prevent the blood vessels from constricting. Putting a hot towel on your forehead can also help. You can also take care to avoid potential migraine triggers.
Consistent, recurring ocular migraines might be a sign that you are wearing the wrong eyeglass prescription, or suffering from another underlying condition. If you live in the Raleigh area and are experience ocular migraines, vision loss, or blurred vision, schedule an eye appointment with Raleigh Eye Center today.