Are Ocular Migraines Dangerous?

Updated on May 26, 2018
Marsei profile image

I grew up in Arkansas, live outside New Orleans. I often write about my own ailments because I'm an expert on them!

The pattern I see during an ocular migraine.
The pattern I see during an ocular migraine.

Facing the Music: Getting Help From a Professional

For almost a year, I had times when I would see a certain shimmering in my eyes. I ignored it. If I was working on my computer, I found a reason to get up and do something, and usually, when I sat back down, it was gone. The picture you see is the "pattern." The jagged lines follow no particular shape. They seem to be random, just silver-colored lines.

My husband and I have a knack for ignoring any health problem until it becomes impossible to do so any longer. I remember having the jagged lights frequently before I decided they might be a warning of a stroke. At that point, I bit the bullet. The thing that made them "different" or caused me to make a decision about getting help was the fact that I was working on an expedited deposition and could no longer see well enough to continue working. When they occurred before, I always got up and walked around, I suppose, long enough for them to go away. Sitting still made me realize they were obscuring my vision.

What I see when in the throes of an ocular migraine: disrupted images.
What I see when in the throes of an ocular migraine: disrupted images.

My Visit With a Neurologist and His Advice and Counsel

When I am having one of the migraines, I can see, but the jagged silvery, shimmering lights block parts of my view. Once I decided to do something about the whole situation, I felt relieved. My primary care doctor recommended a neurologist and I made an appointment.

I was comforted when the doctor who walked in the examination room wore SAS shoes, casual clothes and was about my age, mid-70s. He introduced himself, we talked about life in general for about five minutes, then he asked me to describe my symptoms. I did, telling him that I get a circle of jagged silver lights in the center of my vision. They shimmer and shine and gradually move toward the outside of my vision and finally go away. It seems to be a process that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. When I was ignoring it, I realize now that I likely fiddled around, putting in a load of clothes, getting the mail, putting up clean clothes, etc., long enough for it to run its course. I told him I was concerned that it might be a visual disturbance that had some connection to stroke. I have AFib, which is no big deal, but I am more careful with anything having to do with my heart or vascular system these days.

As I was telling him about whatever it was -- I had never, ever heard the term "ocular migraine" in my life -- I noticed that he was smiling. It was annoying and I finally asked him "Why are you amused?" He apologized and explained that the year before, he began having the same thing, and that's when I learned about ocular migraines. I asked him 10,000 questions at least, of course, including what causes them. He didn't seem quite certain but said a lot of the literature points to hormones. I found this pretty fascinating because before menopause, I had horrendous migraine headaches. They were just the most painful things imaginable, often causing me to vomit to the point of dry heaving. After menopause was over, they went away. The ocular ones started last year when I was 71. My children always tell me I'm in "perpetual menopause," so maybe when it (finally) stopped, they began. The whole hormone thing just sounded right to me. I wanted badly to ask the doctor how hormones were involved with his, but figured I'd best mind my own business.

I learned the headaches are annoying but harmless—like seeing half a squirrel!
I learned the headaches are annoying but harmless—like seeing half a squirrel!

The Prognosis

The doc and I spoke for a rather long time. I learned that the most important element with the ocular migraines is time. He told me that they are not harmful and can't hurt me as long as that is all that is happening. He said they should last only about 15 minutes. He said if they go on much longer than that, they may be something more serious and to get to an ER. When he said that, I thought I would panic every time one came, but I find they bother me less because I know what they are. I use the 10 or 15 minutes they last to be very still, to meditate, sometimes I even listen to music. I am religious about timing them. They are always over in about 12 minutes. They have come less often recently. I have one about every two months now. To answer the title of this article, they are not dangerous. They are annoying, and if I'm working, I have to stop until they go away because my vision blurs. Other than that, I would always chose ten minutes of blurred vision without pain over a pounding, painful migraine.

I Believe Stress Plays a Major Role in Triggering the Ocular Migraines

I have become more and more aware recently of just how large a part stress plays in my life. I'm sure the doctor knows more than I about the cause of the ocular migraines, but the stress in my life has decreased considerably over the last few months and the "episodes" have slowed down. I have only two health issues of any consequence other than the fact that I am overweight and, like everyone else, I'm going to fix that -- soon. The other issue in addition to the ocular migraines is AFib. I notice that when I am under a great deal of stress, my heart goes out of rhythm. I meditate more, deep breathe more, walk outside more often and try to exercise more. The things that cause me stress are situational and usually have to do with work. (Yes, I still work at almost 72 and will as long as my brain works.) It's easy to say stress is beyond my control, but it is not. There are so many ways to handle it. I'm trying some different vitamins and a different way of eating.

I wrote this article because the ocular migraines were frightening to me when I didn't know what they were. So if one day you see a shimmering circle of silver jagged lines, take heart. It's likely just a small something you can easily live with. See a neurologist and be sure that's all it is. I'm certain there are numerous articles online that have information regarding this phenomenon. I read the information on Mayo Clinic's site and quit reading. I have learned not to do too much research because my imagination takes wing and I scare myself to death! Just remember, they won't wound or kill you. Actually, if I had my choice, I'd chose them over a migraine anytime because there is absolutely no pain.

Another thing that brings me comfort is that my father-in-law, who lived with us for the last seven years of his life, often complained to me of shimmering lights in his eyes, silvery and jagged. We spoke to his doctors about it, but they seemed to think it had to do with his cataract surgeries. I wonder. And by the way, he lived to be almost 90 years old!

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Sue Pratt

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      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        7 months ago from New Orleans

        Nicole, the hormone theory made sense to me and that helps confirm it. I think it's definitely hormone related. I'm sure that was scary stuff when you were pregnant. I wonder how many people have them and just attribute it to getting up too fast. Thanks for your comment.

      • kittythedreamer profile image

        Nicole Canfield 

        7 months ago from Summerland

        Sue - I had these during my last pregnancy, so the hormone-cause-theory makes a LOT of sense! It freaked me out the first time I got one...was at work...night shift as a nurse at the hospital...and all of a sudden, I couldn't read the screen to pull the meds from the system! My charge nurse made me sit down and wait it out...I got scared I was having a stroke at first. It happened maybe 3 times, and I looked it up and realized it was ocular migraines.

      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        7 months ago from New Orleans

        Thanks, Stoil for the caffeine info. I haven't had the stabbing pain but who knows. I mostly ignore them! Sure would enjoy a hub about the beauty of Ireland full of amazing photos!?

      • m0rd0r profile image

        Stoill Barzakov 

        7 months ago from Sofia, Bulgaria

        I have those, every now and then. Noticed that strong smell and bright light are the most often "trigger", while caffeine helps me reduce the stabbing pain that shows up after the "aura" in front of my eyes goes away.

        So a coffee and a coke-light is my "cure" :)

        Stay strong.

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