Retinal migraine

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A retinal migraine can cause brief episodes of blindness or visual issues such as flashing lights in one eye.

The episodes can be terrifying, but they are relatively harmless and brief in most circumstances and vision returns to normal after. Some experience an episode every few months but the frequency tends to vary.

It is important to note that retinal migraine is a different ailment and must not be mixed up with the headache-type migraine or one with an aura which typically affects the vision in both eyes.

What are the causes?

Retinal migraine is usually brought about by constriction of the blood vessels in the eye which reduces the flow of blood to the eye.

This can be instigated by:

Retinal migraine
Partial or complete loss of vision in a single eye that generally lasts for 10-20 minutes before vision steadily returns.
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Using hormonal birth control pills
  • High altitude
  • Bending over
  • Dehydration
  • Exposure to excessive heat

After some time, the blood vessels relax, and the flow of blood resumes and vision returns. In most instances, there are no irregularities inside the eye and lasting eye damage is rare.

What are the signs?

The indications of a retinal migraine might include the following:

  • Partial or complete loss of vision in a single eye – this generally lasts for 10-20 minutes before vision steadily returns
  • Headache – this can occur before, during or after an episode

The same eye is affected every time in most cases. The vision might steadily become blurry or darkened or there is flashing of lights. Some might see a mosaic pattern composed of blank spots that become enlarged to cause full vision loss.

Management of retinal migraine

The treatment for retinal migraine generally involves pain relief for the headache and limiting exposure to the triggers.

The doctor might prescribe medications such as:

  • Beta-blockers to allow the blood vessels to relax
  • Aspirin to lessen the pain and inflammation
  • Calcium-channel blocker to prevent the constriction of the blood vessels
  • Anti-epileptics to prevent a migraine
  • Tricyclic antidepressant for migraine prevention

Remember that there is a slight risk for the diminished blood flow to impair the retina and blood vessels within the eye. This is closely observed during the follow-up appointments.

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