Fact Checked

What are Ocular Migraines?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ocular migraines are migraines involving the eyes. They can manifest in several ways with a variety of symptoms, and neurologists use the term slightly differently, which can lead to some confusion. As a general rule, an instance of severe visual disruption is classified as an ocular migraine, whether or not it is accompanied by pain. Most people seek the attention of an ophthalmologist after experiencing these migraines because of the vision related symptoms, but they should also visit a neurologist. A neurologist may be able to determine the root cause and make recommendations for preventing the recurrence of ocular migraines.

Often, no pain is associated with migraines around the eyes. Instead, the field of vision is severely disrupted. Flashing lights, distortion, and vision loss have all been reported by patients experiencing the condition. Sometimes, only one eye is involved, and the symptoms usually disappear after approximately half an hour. It is believed that the cause of these migraines is a change in the blood flow of the brain, and a number of things may trigger them.

Ocular migraines involve the eyes.
Ocular migraines involve the eyes.

The hallucinations associated with these migraines are sometimes known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, due to their resemblance to the imaginary world of Lewis Carroll. Some neurologists have suggested that the topsy-turvy world of Alice in Wonderland may have come from the mind of someone who experienced these migraines. In some instances, a migraine follows the visual symptoms of an ocular migraine. Other symptoms may include pain around the eyes, nausea, vomiting, and double vision.

A disruption in vision, with or without pain, may be an ocular migraine.
A disruption in vision, with or without pain, may be an ocular migraine.

Stress and changes in the menstrual cycle of women are believed to be associated with ocular migraines. In addition, some foods may act as triggers. These foods include caffeine, chocolate, aged cheeses, rich meat, and red wine. If a patient has severe ocular migraines accompanied by intense pain, a neurologist may lead the patient on an elimination diet, to determine which food is acting as a trigger. Patients who experience no pain may choose to go on an elimination diet as well, since these migraines can be very disruptive to daily life.

Hallucinations resulting from ocular migraines have been dubbed Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.
Hallucinations resulting from ocular migraines have been dubbed Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

Any patient who experiences strange visual symptoms and regular headaches should seek medical attention. Visual anomalies and head pain can be symptoms of a more serious problem. When visiting a doctor to consult about these problems, it is helpful to have a list of when symptoms have appeared, so that the doctor can look for a common link between incidents.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have a lot of visual symptoms, but the oddest, though not the most distracting, is that sometimes I see certain letters in color. Like, really see -- but only on a computer. I'm not sure how to describe this -- it isn't synesthesia! There is no consistency to it, and synesthesia is consistent. It only happens on computers and the colors change from one day to the next.

First the text will start to look washed out and brownish. Then a single letter starts appearing in color (usually lowercase 'L', which sometimes looks green, sometimes blue, purple, rust...the color is random and not tied to the letter in any way.) After a few moments, other letters will start to appear in color. Usually they appear in the same color as the first letter, but sometimes they appear in other colors. Changing the font size helps for a moment, but then the colors reassert themselves. Changing font type, or using serif instead of sans-serif doesn't do anything.

Strangely, my brain differentiates between a sans-serif 'I' and a sans-serif 'l', which look alike without serifs. It also has no problem with 'O', 'o', and '0'. My brain has absolutely no problem knowing which letter should be what color. Uppercase letters are not necessarily the same color as their lowercase counterparts. Numbers do not seem to be affected.

I've been everywhere and back, but haven't found anything that talks about this. So I was hoping somebody here has a clue.

Again, this is not synesthesia--I actually am synesthetic (I 'see' and 'shape' music)and have been tested for other types of synesthesia as well. This is most definitely not synesthesia.


After looking at something for a prolonged period of time, my vision dots up black then dots back down. It usually happens after staring at my PC or TV. Is that considered a light source? I cannot find any results of my condition anywhere and it happens one out every three times I've stared at something for a prolonged time. Help, please.


I wake up in the morning with 20/20 vision, then all of a sudden, everything is blurry or cloudy come afternoon. I am noticing this is triggered by lights -- even sunny days or bright snow. My PC said it was optical migraines. I can't stand it.

It's not getting any better. It comes whenever it wants and feels like I am so blind and squinting. Nothing fixes it but going to sleep -- almost like I reset my vision. Sometimes I get the normal migraine with or even after the optical migraine happens. Does anyone else have this going on or know anything about it? Anyone know any remedies to make it better other than sleep?


I believe I had this today but it was at like 3 this afternoon and I still cannot see out of my bottom left eye and I have serious pain on the right side of my head.


RE: Silver raindrops: I too experienced this. It lasted for about 10 seconds. Scary. I was told it was ocular migraines by ophthalmologist. I have yet to see a neurologist about it.


I was just sitting in my room with my friends when I started finding it difficult to focus with my left eye. It continued to get worse and eventually I couldn't see through half of my eye. This brought on both a headache and nausea.

It was a bit creepy, but I was hoping that it would disappear before it got worse. And it did after about 30 minutes.


I have flashing lights at the bottom of both eyes with no pain. I take topamax, 300 mg a day.

I have a bad compressed spinal cord from a disc at t7-t8 that I'm going to have surgery on in February 2013. Hope that might help.


Today when I was reading something on my desktop, the screen started to vibrate slowly sideways, as I gazed continuously. When I shifted my vision to some other point, it stopped vibrating. This happened many times, and it happens many times when I gaze and read continuously. What does this mean?


People who have a a blind spot in their vision or a veil or shadow across their vision should go to see an eye doctor as soon as possible, as these can be symptoms of a detached retina. If this is left unchecked, you can permanently lose your vision.


I have the same thing. I thought that I was the only one. The nails on chalkboard sensation, the straw thing too. I have to turn the straws away from me. It has gotten real bad lately and 24/7. I have had this most of my life, but like I said, something has made it much worse. It's hard to take.


I have the event rarely and when I do I am always out of doors in an area where there is a lot of detail, like looking on the ground to clean up after my dogs. It is like having lag on the PC.

When it happens, I close my eyes for a second then open them to look at one spot on the ground and do not allow my eyes to rove along the ground. I can focus for that moment until I move and then it happens again. The episode lasts for 15 to 20 minutes.

I'm an artist and really look when I look at things so I may be pulling in more stimulus than my mind can process. Yet as I said, it happens months apart.


I don't know what this is but I have it too. Sometimes I to look away at a vehicle in front of me if it has something sticking out of it like a ladder or anything pointed at me. It happens in other places too, even with things on TV.

I also suffer from ocular migraines. This morning I was drinking a breakfast shake with a straw and when I sucked in hard, my vision went screwy for a few seconds?

I have never had an MRI, but did have a very thorough eye exam recently that included a

sonogram of my eyes. Other than a cataract, everything looked fine.


My husband woke up at 1:30 am with an optical migraine. He's 51 years old and has had these since he was 20 years old and they've only ever lasted for part of the day. This one, however, is still going on (five weeks now) without abating. It's taken out part of his vision in one eye and just a little in the other. It's the typical wiggly, flashing lights around a blind spot. Is there anyone out there that has had this for a prolonged time and it cleared up?

Any information on this would be greatly appreciated, as you can understand how worried we are.


I have had the sudden double vision described only once and lasting a few seconds. It seemed related to only the left eye, which three weeks ago suddenly lost vision in the lower half, as if a grey screen had been placed precisely across the center of my eye. Above the screen, vision was normal. Any thoughts? Thanks


Tears in the left eye. Feeling of light eyed. Dizzy. Glasses do not help. Tired after build up of tears. sink water helps for a short time. After a short swim, it tends to clear up for a short time.


I have been having a symptom in just my right eye. I am on Topamax. I also have had a history of migraines, but can no longer take the meds I was taking for them.

I have been getting, quite regularly, a sensation of a jabbing needle into my eye. Also, there are times when light changes, such as when I'm driving, (the sun), and my eye will go crossed, severely! This has happened when I'm putting on my make-up too.

The bathroom light is bright. I have to go into another room for 20 min. or so and close my eyes until it passes. When I'm driving, I panic until I can pull over somewhere. The "needle" sensation is painful and is followed with tears down my face, but the eye distortions, though somewhat painful, just scare me. I have had my eyes checked recently for cataracts and glaucoma and I am fine. I wonder, though, if this could be my medicine, or history of migraines?


i have also a problem about my eyes, and it really annoys me. I see some zigzag lights and they're after nausea and vomiting. Since then I'm scared seeing flashes of lights because i think it is the reason why i suffer from this.

Every time i see some zigzag, spots that flashes on my eyes, i take paracetamol immediately and it really works. it can relieve pain. Can anybody help me about what is the best medicine for this?


I am having what some doctors are calling ocular migraines while other doctors are "sure" i am having TIA's. After MRI, MRA, and every other test known to medicine I think the esteemed medical field doesn't have a clue to what is going on with me and are quick to say that I am having experiences out of the ordinary. They are fairly constantly occurring. Sometimes a curtain closed over one eye, sometimes, flashing lights, stars, colors, designs, etc. Almost always a strange, numbing feeling precedes the change. I sometimes feel it is like someone is watercoloring over my visual world in one eye and there are spots of grey blocking out vision. Comes and goes 24/7 now for over a week. I had a mild head injury just hours before this started but doctors can't seem to deal with anything except my high cholesterol count. Anyone know anyone dealing with this constant coming and going of vision? No pain.


In response to anon15405, I wonder if your symptoms are related to synaesthesia? perhaps try researching it? Other than that, perhaps it's an anxiety fuelled response. Take care.


Over the past two months I have had unusual visual events that have been diagnosed as ocular migraines. I have gone online but do not read that my case fits the common definitions.

I have no headaches, no loss of vision, and the symptoms occur regularly, but randomly, throughout the day - some within minutes of one another, others separated by several hours.

The duration of the events is only about 5 seconds or less. The visual disturbances are as follows: silver raindrops in both eyes seen in the outside corners of each eye, the rain drops are regularly spaced and move either up or down or both direction- one following the other. They occur in both eyes, but not necessarily at the same time. The number of the "drops" varies from 1 to 6. They are very regular as tho being dropped from an eyedropper.

Anyone have these symptoms? If so please share history, diagnosis and treatment. I have been advised that I do not have anything that will be harmful.


i would ask your doctor about "convergence insufficiency". it's basically when your eye muscles are a bit weak and it requires more effort to focus. i have this. ha, there are actually "eye exercises" that you do to help it. one of the exercises, is actually to point your finger up and start with it far out in front of you, slowly bring it towards your face and see when/if the image splits, if you get double vision, that's when your eyes are not converging. so the goal is too keep your finger as one image the whole time and bring it to your nose and then hold it. doing the exercises will usually bring on the "icky" feeling. i feel kind of pressure, dizzy, nauseous, from it.

another test is when things are bothering you, if you look out of one eye only, it should help reduce the symtpoms. try it out, and see an ophthalmologist.


I wonder if this is the classification of an unusual visual symptom that I occasionally. What happens is that when something is pointed directly at my eyes, such as a pencil, a finger, even the straw on someones drink across the table from me, I get what I can best describe as a combination of the discomfort of hearing nails on a chalkboard feels like and the sensation that one would have at the top of a roller coaster. The combination is quite annoying although I wouldn't really call it pain. But it is enough to cause me to close my eyes when it happens. Usually lasts for a short time and goes away by itself. As of now I've only found one other person (via the internet) that has had similar symptoms. Does anyone have this? or Does anybody know what the heck this thing is?


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