How to Treat an Ocular Migraine

Ocular or “classic” migraines are severe headaches accompanied by changes in vision (seeing flashes of light or shadows, or an “aura”). Mild cases can be treated with pain relievers and rest. Stronger or more frequent ocular migraines can be treated with prescription medications and other professional treatments, as well as by making some lifestyle changes. Ocular migraines should not be confused with “retinal” migraines, which cause symptoms of short-term blindness or reduced vision in only one eye. Retinal migraines are the sign of a serious medical issue–if you have one, you should seek medical assistance immediately.

Recognize the onset of the aura phase. Ocular migraines are characterized by visual problems, known as the “aura.” You may have trouble seeing, experience zig-zag lights that aren’t really there, “see stars,” or have other visual effects. These may or may not be accompanied by pain. Part of treatment is learning to recognize the particular symptoms that accompany your ocular migraines.

  • The aura phase usually takes place in the 10-60 minute window before the ocular migraine begins.

Take your preventative migraine medication, if you have it. Your doctor may have prescribed you a medication (usually a triptan or ergot derivative) to take whenever you start to have a migraine. If so, take this as soon as you experience the onset of the aura. Doing so may stop the headache, nausea, or other symptoms that may follow the aura phase.

  • These prescriptions are available in a variety of forms: pills, dissolving tablets, sprays, or shots.
  • Make sure to follow your doctor’s dosing instructions.
  • You should not use these medications if you are pregnant or have certain types of heart disease or uncontrolled high blood pressure. Discuss your medical history with your doctor before using migraine medication.

Rest and get away from your triggers. Even if you aren’t experiencing pain or headache, find a quiet, dark place where you can close your eyes and rest as soon as you begin to experience ocular symptoms. If you know you have specific migraine triggers (such as specific sounds, smells, or staring at a screen too long), resting away from these will also help treat the migraine.

  • Even if you can’t lie down, try moving away from bright sunlight or harsh lighting as well as noisy situations.

Use an over-the counter (OTC) pain reliever if needed. Mild migraine pain can be stopped or at least reduced with a standard dose of aspirin, acetaminophen, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Follow the package instructions and do not take more than the maximum recommended dose.

  • You can also take specially formulated OTC migraine pain relievers, which may combine several medications (typically aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine).
  • If you are taking any other medications, talk to a medical professional about which OTC medications are safe and effective for you to use.

Place a cold compress on your head for additional pain relief. Soak a clean cloth in cool water. Wring out the excess, then lay the cloth on your forehead or behind your neck. Leave it there for as long as the cloth stays cool to get some instant relief.

  • Using a cold compress while lying down in a quiet, dark place can be especially effective.
  • Massage your scalp. Spread out your fingers and rub them all over your scalp and temples. Push down with lots of pressure. This can be a surprisingly effective way to relieve mild migraines

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