Migraines and Vision Issues

  • BY Lainie Petersen

All headaches are not created equal. While tension headaches are undeniably painful, they aren’t accompanied by the myriad of symptoms that tag along with migraines.

If you’ve ever had a migraine you probably remember the unrelenting pain of the headache combined with fatigue, nausea and other disorienting symptoms.

(You probably also remember having to take a day to recover after the headache went away.)

Some of the oddest, and most upsetting, symptoms of migraine are visual disturbances and sensitivity to light. These symptoms can make it very difficult for a migraine sufferer to function and, for the uninitiated, cause significant distress:


Migraines and Visual Disturbances:

Many people experience various visual disturbances before or during a migraine. (Prior to a migraine, these conditions are known as “aura.”) Disturbances may vary, but often include seeing spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights.

(While unpleasant, one benefit of aura symptoms is that they usually begin about an hour before migraine pain sets in. This can give you enough time to get home or to take medicine to manage your condition.)


Migraines and Sensitivity to Light:

I once worked for someone who often had migraines. We could always tell when she was dealing with one because the light in her office was dimmed and she wore sunglasses all day. Migraines tend to make people very sensitive to light and light exposure can even increase other symptoms, such as nausea.

(Hint: Having sunglasses or sunglass shades handy at both home and work can help you manage migraine symptoms.)


Silent Migraines:

While many people associate migraine with headaches, it is possible to experience migraine without a headache. I’ve had one of these myself and while I was thankful to avoid the headache pain, this condition was actually quite perplexing and somewhat frightening. I had several migraine symptoms: Visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, and nausea, all of which came on rather suddenly.  Eventually I realized what the problem was and was able to relax, but spent a few frightened hours wondering if I should seek medical attention.

(In retrospect, I probably should have talked to a doctor. If you suddenly experience odd neurological symptoms, it is a good idea to seek medical attention.)


Ocular Migraines:

As noted above, visual disturbances and light sensitivity are common migraine symptoms. A more uncommon symptom is temporary loss of vision in one eye, a condition known as ocular migraine. Obviously, this can be extremely frightening and debilitating for sufferers, although the vision loss usually lasts for less than an hour.

(Like other migraine symptoms, loss of vision in one eye can be a symptom of a more serious condition and should always be checked out by your doctor.)

Getting Treatment:

Many doctors consider migraine to be a neurological condition that needs specialized treatment. While sufferers of occasional migraines can make do by taking over-the-counter medication and getting bed rest, those who have frequent migraines should talk to their doctors about their options.

There are certain lifestyle factors that can contribute to migraine: Some people find that eating certain foods, such as chocolate, can trigger migraine. Caffeine withdrawal can cause migraine, as can ongoing and poorly-managed stress. For some people, making changes in the way they live and eat may be all that is necessary to reduce or eliminate migraine symptoms.

Those who cannot manage migraine on their own, may find that other drugs, including anti-seizure medications, beta-blockers and antidepressants can be helpful. Other treatments, such as Botox injections in the scalp can also reduce or eliminate migraines.