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Why do I get Visual Disturbances?

Visual disturbance

For the majority of the time we see clearly in any given circumstance and often we don’t give our sight a second thought! Occasionally, we experience an episode which makes us sit up and take notice. A commonly reported symptom in practice is that of a painless, temporary disturbance in vision. This can be quite disconcerting, or even frightening if experienced for the first time. These symptoms are often caused by an ocular migraine.

What is an ocular migraine?

An ocular migraine gives a temporary visual disturbance, or ‘aura’. This will often be described as ‘zig-zagging’ lights or lines (like looking through a kaleidoscope) or, occasionally as though the vision has become ‘rippled’ ( like looking through water). The aura begins in one area of the visual field, and gradually progresses to affect the central field. The symptoms usually last for twenty to thirty minutes, but can last for up to an hour. The disturbances will almost always affect both eyes, although they are often reported as being more one sided. Often a headache will follow, but not always. A feeling of nausea and sensitivity to light can be experienced. A patient often reports feeling drained, or washed out after such an episode.

What causes an ocular migraine?

There are certain identifying risk factors. These may include stress, high levels of caffeine, a lack of sleep, food intolerances, skipped meals or certain activities.

Can they be treated?

Treatment can often be based around identifying the potential trigger factors. It may be helpful to keep a diary including notes on diet, exercise, sleep and menstruation. If a recurrence of ocular migraine is causing issues at work, or perhaps concerns regarding driving or other daily activities, see your GP. Your GP may advise the use of aspirin, ibuprofen, or perhaps a specific migraine preventing medication.

When presenting to your optometrist with any symptoms of visual disturbances, or flashing lights, he or she will take a thorough ocular history in order to establish the cause. It is important to rule out other causes of these symptoms, particularly if they are reported as affecting one eye only. Your optometrist may dilate your pupils to examine the integrity of the more peripheral parts of your retina. If you also experience symptoms of a sudden onset of floaters, or a feeling of a static loss of sight in an area of your visual field, seek immediate investigation.


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