When you hear someone describe a visual aura related to a migraine headache, it sounds pretty scary. For some patients, they have to pull over to the roadside or stop working on their computer because the central vision is too distorted and blurry.
A migraine headache is a neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms including nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness and tingling, and sensitivity to light. Migraines often run in families and affect all ages, although they are more common before age 30, and typically affect boys more during childhood. After puberty, however, women are three times more likely to have migraines.
Researchers haven’t identified a definitive cause for migraines. However, they have found some contributing factors that can trigger the condition such as a decrease in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, bright lights, severe heat, dehydration, changes in barometric pressure, hormone changes in women, especially fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, excess stress, loud sounds, intense physical activity, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, certain medications (oral contraceptives or nitroglycerin), certain foods, smoking, alcohol use, and traveling.
Migraine symptoms may begin one to two days before a headache itself. Some of these symptoms can include food cravings, depression, fatigue or low energy, frequent yawning, hyperactivity, irritability, and neck stiffness.
When a person has a migraine with an aura, the aura occurs after the previous symptoms. During the aura, you may have difficulty speaking clearly, feeling a prickling or tingling sensation in your face, arms, or legs, seeing shapes, light flashes or bright spots, and temporary loss of vision. The aura is what usually prompts patients to see an eye doctor to evaluate if these visual symptoms are related to the eye. Some of these symptoms are similar to a retinal detachment, so a dilated eye examination is often performed to rule out a retinal problem.
There are many remedies for migraine headaches. Some of these include avoiding migraine triggers, over-the-counter and prescription pain medication, lying down in a quiet, dark room, massaging the scalp or temples, and placing a cold compress over your forehead or behind your neck. There are a couple of surgical procedures that are used to treat migraines. However, they haven’t been approved by the FDA. The procedures include neurostimulation procedures and migraine trigger site decompression surgery.
If there are increased migraine symptoms, your physician may recommend imaging scans such as a CT scan or MRI to rule out other causes.
Research has shown some people with visual migraines benefit from tinted glasses. A company named Noir has several options for migraine sufferers, and another lens named FL-41 have been successful for many migraine sufferers. The technology of tinted lenses has improved dramatically so many of the tinted lenses are not visible to the outside world.
It isn’t unusual for a person to have to try several different options to treat or reduce migraines. Working with both an eye care professional and a medical doctor will provide you with the best information and treatment options to determine what works best for you.
By Dr. Steve Nauman