Ophthalmic migraines have several triggers, the most common being glare, fatigue, stress, caffeine and nicotine. About 20 to 30 per cent of migraine episodes are brought on by certain foods, including citrus fruits, dairy products, peanut butter and other nuts, and specific seafood. Some people are sensitive to cheddar cheese, cured meat products like hot dogs, preservatives like MSG, and alcoholic beverages, especially red wine.
These signs can be part of an ophthalmic migraine attack, a brief and painless change to your vision. Symptoms can also appear before or during a severe headache that makes it hard to function. This indicates a classic migraine.
Sometimes, symptoms of ophthalmic migraine affect only one eye. They are more likely to involve both eyes, although not necessarily to the same extent. The visual disturbance also has a pattern – it comes on suddenly, gradually gets worse, and then slowly recedes. It is like a marching band that goes by your viewing area – it gets louder as it approaches and then softer after it has gone by your location.
Environmental causes include bright, flashing or flickering lights, high altitudes, or strong odours. Experts also believe that changes in estrogen levels, a female hormone, are one reason why women have more migraines. This means factors such as puberty, birth control pills, and hormone replacement therapy may trigger an attack.
Ophthalmic migraines do not last long, so no specific treatment is required. However, if they occur when you are driving or using tools they can be frightening.
Figuring out what triggers the migraines can be helpful. Keep a diary of the activities you were doing before the migraine occurred to try to find a pattern.
It is also wise to see an ophthalmologist to rule out eye disease that can cause similar symptoms. Examples are vitreous floaters that cause spots in your vision, tears in the retina at the back of the eye, and a disturbance in circulation in the retina.
With a classic migraine headache, visual auras such as flashes of light or bright spots may appear before the headache begins. Sense of smell, or numbness and tingling on one side of the body, can also be involved. Classic migraine headaches tend to occur in younger people aged 20 to 40. Ophthalmic migraines tend to occur in people aged 50 to 70.
Several health conditions can mimic migraine, including transient ischemic attacks (TIAs or ‘mini stroke’). A TIA is likely to include other symptoms. These include numbness or tingling in half of your body, problems with speech, and dizziness or balance problems.
TIAs are very serious. They are associated with stroke, or can occur before a stroke. They warn that something serious is wrong with your circulation. A thorough medical check for anything that might interrupt the circulation to your brain is needed. Your family doctor can check for problems with your blood vessels. For instance, a blood clot or narrowed artery can affect blood flow. Plaque can build up in the carotid vessels supplying the head and neck with blood.
If you are concerned about changes in your vision, your family doctor is a great source of information. Schedule an appointment to discuss how healthy living and diet changes can reduce ophthalmic migraine, classic migraine headaches and strokes.