are a fairly common type among those who experience migraines. And
yet many people don't fully understand what they are or what they
entail. For them, we've developed these Frequently Asked Questions
about optical migraines.
- So what is
a migraine? It's a recurring condition normally accompanied
by an extremely painful headache. This headache usually
affects only one side of the sufferer's head. In most causes,
an aura occurs just before a migraine attack. This aura could
be in the form of visual flashes, spots, seeing a zigzag pattern
of light, or even a ringing in the ears or smelling unusual odors
that others don't hear. Other accompanying symptoms could
include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and double vision.
an optical migraine? With an optical migraine, the aura
is experienced--but minus the pain. This is much less common than
the migraine which is accompanied by severe pain. It's also
called a visual migraine, an ocular migraine or an acephalgic
migraine--the aura without the pain. The visual disturbances that
one experiences are normally flashing lights in a zig-zag pattern. The aura will typically start as a small visual march crossing
the person's field of vision; slowly this will fade away. These
kinds of attacks will last for several minutes up to nearly an
hour. In some cases, an optical migraine is experienced
as a blind spot in the person's field of vision.
- How can I
know that what I'm experiencing is an optical migraine? One
of the hallmarks of a migraine is that the same symptoms are experienced
over and over for a period of many years. In the case of
an optical migraine, the same aura will be experienced over and
over. If you notice an alteration in the visual phenomenon,
it could be something more serious, and a doctor should be notified.
- What's the
cause of an optical migraine? No cause has been nailed down
definitively. There are some theories though. For
instance, one theory says they might be caused by allergies, by
endocrine disturbances, or by a temporary edema in the brain. The one thing we do know is that it has something to do
with the brain's blood circulation being disturbed. Without
question, there is a link between the pain and the brain's blood
vessels narrowing and then dilating.
- If my headaches
are not migraines, what might they be? They could be something
as simple and minor as a tension headache. Or they could
be something more serious. In the case of visual changes,
these might also be brought on by partial seizures. Some
other possibilities could be a retina becoming detached from the
eye, a mini stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or even a brain tumor. Please remember though that only a tiny minority of headaches
are ever anything more serious than a migraine.
- Who's likely
to get optical migraines? Women experience them more often
than men, by about three to one. Also, if someone in your
family history experienced them, you're more likely to have them.
- How are optical
migraines treated? Some common medications prescribed include
sedatives and aspirin. Also, resting and sleeping in the
dark often relieves the symptoms. But if an optical migraine
is accompanied by a serious headache, sometimes the doctor will
suggest that the patient be injected with triptans or ingestion,
or that he be given beta-blockers, antiepileptic drugs or antidepressants. For most medication to work, though, it's important for
the person to recognize the aura prior to the onset of the