A scary incident just happened to my uncle. He was home watching TV when suddenly he saw a “shade” come down over his right eye. Then began to see strange zigzag psychedelic images on the TV screen. All of a sudden, his right side felt numb. He called his wife and when she approached him, he looked at her and said “You’re on fire.” All this time, he never had any pain. I thought he had a seizure. But an ophthalmologist would later tell him he was experiencing an ocular migraine.
What is an ocular migraine?
An ocular migraine, also known as migraine with aura, describes a visual disturbance that precedes a migraine headache. Aura, as a medical term, is a subjective sensation one experiences just before a neurological problem. Epileptics can often identify their own auras which signal impending seizures.
What are the symptoms?
My uncle had some of the typical symptoms of an ocular migraine: blinds spots and seeing geometric shapes (the “shade”), shimmering spots or stars and flashes of light (“You’re on fire”), zigzag patterns in the field of vision (the psychedelic images), and numbness. Some people may also experience vision changes, speech problems, and muscle weakness. And others, like my uncle, may not have any headache afterward.
What brings it on?
Although it’s not clear what causes an ocular migraine, some risk factors have been identified like being female and having a family history of migraines. My uncle is clearly a male but his sister, my mother, does get migraines. The ophthalmologist also identified stress as a potential trigger for ocular migraines. I guess kids, college loans, and a mortgage will do that to you!
How do you treat an ocular migraine?
If you have experienced any of the above signs and symptoms without a headache, see your health care provider immediately to rule out a more serious condition like stroke or a torn retina. This can be done with an eye exam, CT scan, or MRI. If you have an ocular migraine with headache, you may be prescribed migraine pain relievers like Triptans. Preventative measures may include antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and stress re lief therapy.
Tips for staying safe when experiencing an ocular migraine
As a nurse, I was concerned for my uncle’s safety should he experience another ocular migraine. Here are some tips I have for staying safe when experiencing an ocular migraine.
-When you feel an ocular migraine coming on, sit down. The visual disturbances distort your perception and make you vulnerable to falls and injuries.
-If this happens while driving, pull over and turn the car off. Keep a large HELP sign in your car in case you need medical attention. Do not drive until your vision returns to normal.
-People who have recurring ocular migraines are at a higher risk for stroke. It can’t hurt to have a medical ID bracelet made that says “Stroke risk”.
The Free Dictionary online, Aura
MayoClinic.com, Migraine with aura, last updated March 2011