As par for the course my life takes, I’ve
often had to be the recipient of a symptom
or condition to truly understand its
causes, effects and solutions — providing
me with a deeper understanding of
what my patients’ experience. Unfortunately,
this investigative report came
about because I recently experienced a
very troubling visual disturbance and dull
headache over one eye and immediately
panicked thinking it was a detached retina
again — one of the most debilitating conditions
I’ve been through!
I was consulting with a patient when
suddenly I began to see light flashes as
if looking through shattered glass. I had
a dull headache over my right eye that
morning but discounted it as having been
on the computer too many hours the day
before. As the symptoms worsened, I
called my eye doctor and rushed to her
office, fearing the worse. Upon examination,
she assured me I had all the symptoms
of an ocular migraine; to which I responded,
“What in the heck is that?” That
said, most any other diagnosis was welcome
other than the dreaded detached
retina with its harrowing recovery.
The eye doctor did see a clouding of
the lens, often forming after cataract surgery;
which I had a few years back. The
following information is the result of my
research to assist you in better understanding,
and dealing with, this type of
ocular occurrence should you experience
it. As always, if you have any unusual eye
symptoms do not “doctor
yourself” — see an eye care
Ophthalmic (eye) migraines
are quite common and often
painless, although the
solo term “migraine” usually
brings to mind a severe
type of headache. As a child,
I experienced debilitating
migraines; years later we discovered
these were brought
on by a famous brand of
soup I consumed several
times a week that contained
significant amounts of MSG.
This ocular migraine is completely
different; I was fortunate
that the pain in this recent situation
was a dull ache, not the typical head-splitting
With eye-related migraines, visual
disturbances with or without headache
pain also can accompany migraine processes
thought to be related to changes
in blood flow in the brain.
These visual problems associated
with migraines technically are known
as ophthalmic migraines, but are much
more commonly (though incorrectly)
called ocular migraines. Because most
laypeople understand the term better, this
article refers to the condition as “ocular
Migraines can be produced by the
body’s neurological responses to certain
triggers such as hormonal changes, flashing
lights or chemicals in foods or medications.
One result of these triggers may
be an intense headache that, if untreated,
can last for hours or even days.
During migraine processes, changes
also may take place in blood flow to the
area of the brain responsible for vision
(visual cortex or occipital lobe). Resulting
ophthalmic or ocular migraines commonly
produce visual symptoms even without
Ocular Migraine Symptoms
People with ocular migraines can have a
variety of visual symptoms. Typically you
will see a small, enlarging blind spot (scotoma)
in your central vision with bright,
flickering lights (scintillations) or a shimmering
zigzag line (metamorphopsia) inside
the blind spot. The blind spot usually
enlarges and may move across your field
of vision. This entire migraine phenomenon
may end in only a few minutes, but
usually lasts as long as about 20–30 minutes;
the headache can last for days, even
with dull non-debilitating pain.
Met·a·mor·phop·si·a — a visual disorder
in which images appear distorted in
various ways; usually a defect in vision
in which objects are seen as distorted in
shape, which results from disease of the
retina or imperfection of the media.
An anomaly of visual perception in
which objects appear distorted in shape
or of different size or in a different location
than the actual object. It may be due to a displacement of the visual receptors
as a result of inflammation, tumor or retinal
detachment, it can be of central origin
(e.g. migraine, drug intoxication, and
neurosis or brain injury).
It is also caused by the accumulation
of subretinal fluid in the macula resulting
in metamorphopsia and blurring of
Generally, ocular migraines are considered
harmless, usually painless, cause no
permanent visual or brain damage and do
not require treatment. That said, always
consult your eye doctor when you have
unusual vision symptoms, because it is
possible that you have another condition
requiring treatment, such as a detached
retina, which should be checked out immediately.
Why we get ocular migraines?
There are three prevalent causes:
- Overtiredness — i.e. too much computer work and/or reading, not enough rest;
- After cataract surgery if a cloudy substance forms behind the lens; putting pressure on the optic nerves as well as clouding the field of vision (this is what occurred in my case);
- Migraines — more serious and more painful localized headaches often triggered by specific causes such as toxic food ingredients, specifically MSG, nitrates and sulfites.
The cause of the ocular migraine is
thought to begin with arteries in the brain
which spasm, precipitated by stress, hormonal
fluctuations, certain medications,
foods containing tyramine or phenylalanine
(e.g., cheese, chocolate), fatigue,
post cataract surgery and alcohol.
The result is reduction in blood flow
in that artery, followed by blood vessel dilation
over-filling those vessels, causing
the throbbing or “pounding” headache.
What to do for an Ocular Migraine
Unfortunately, a visit to the eye doctor
may produce few answers in terms of how
to treat or prevent ocular migraines. This
is because processes that trigger ophthalmic
migraines are poorly understood.
The vision symptoms accompanying
painless ocular migraines are not related
directly to the eyes. Instead, these visual
symptoms occur as a result of the migraine
“activity” in the visual cortex of the
brain located in the back of the skull.
As described above, your vision and
visual acuity will be affected significantly
during an ophthalmic migraine attack or
If sharp vision is essential for your
safety, then you should stop what you are
doing immediately. If you are driving, pull
over until the ocular migraine passes and
your vision has cleared.
Stay still until the ocular migraine
resolves. If you have concerns about unusual
or lingering vision symptoms, visit
your eye doctor or physician for a checkup.
Normally, ophthalmic migraines do
not require treatment.
The Way I See It…
Relieving an Ocular Migraine, Naturally
• Apply cold compresses to reduce swelling and relieve headache.
• As with typical migraine headaches,
it may help to close eyes, remove light
sources or retire to a darkened room,
reduce or remove other stimuli, and relax
in a prone position for a period of
• Hydrate well and drink water at roomtemperature.
• Use an over-the-counter homeopathic
lubricating eye drop without added
chemicals such as Similasan for computer
eyes, available at health food
stores. It is formulated to stimulate
the eye’s natural ability to relieve eyestrain
due to intense computer work,
TV, reading, writing or night driving.
The homeopathic complex with its active
ingredients provides relief without
known side effects or drug interactions
and does not cause a rebound effect.
• I take a supplement that encourages
blood flow — a complex that provides
a plant-based formula for smoother
blood flow, stronger blood vessel walls,
and pacifies inflammatory responses.
I have taken 2 twice a day since my
much written about accident and the
subsequent blood clots; it keeps my
blood clotting time in the healthy range
and provides overall support for blood
flow. The formula I use is a plant-based
systemic enzyme formula containing
nattokinase, the proteolytic enzyme
bromelain and papain, known to effectively
rebalance the body’s inflammatory
response. The complex I use also
contains rutin to strengthen capillaries
and other connective tissue, and white
willow bark, which is often called “nature’s
• Use an herbal complex known to assist
with inflammation as well as blood flow.
In my practice I use a proprietary herbal
liquid complex of Curcuma (turmeric)
and Bupleurum root (Chai Hu). These
two ancient herbs work synergistically
as potent anti-inflammatory agents and
have been proved in experimental models.
Even more potent than its volatile
oil is the yellow or orange pigment of
turmeric, called curcumin — the primary
pharmacological agent in turmeric.
In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory
effects have been shown
to be comparable to the potent drugs
hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as
well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory
agents such as Motrin. Unlike the
drugs, which are associated with significant
toxic effects (ulcer formation,
decreased white blood cell count, intestinal
bleeding), curcumin produces
no toxicity. Bupleurum is credited for
invigorating the circulatory system and
blood vessel strength. Together these
two herbs in a tincture make up an extraordinary
complex to assist with any
circulatory and inflammatory disorders;
especially those related to the eyes.
I take 20 drops in a little bit of water
twice a day, anytime — an easy, healthy,
inexpensive way to support overall circulatory
health and, of course, the windows
to our souls, our eyes.