Have you ever had a situation, sometimes followed by an actual physical headache, where your vision has been suddenly been affected by strange lights, or moving objects within your field of vision?
Maybe a funny flashing light in the corner of your eyes, or a blurry spot in the centre of your eye that doesn’t allow you to see everything clearly.
Maybe you can see parts of what is in front of you, but not all. Usually this interruption to your vision is in one eye, but sometimes it travels from one to another, or affects both of them at the same time. Sometimes this feeling of not being able to focus properly might make you fear that there is something seriously wrong, that you are having a stroke, or you have a brain tumor.
Luckily, the vast majority of these ocular interruptions can be explained by a type of headache known as an Ocular Migraine.
An Ocular Migraine is exactly what it says, a headache that presents itself within the eye. Of course, the actual disruption to the way you are seeing is not coming from inside the eye at all.
This is the difference. The things we usually see are mostly floaters.
When we see floaters inside our eyes it is usually caused by Posterior Vitreous Detachment, which sounds scary but is just when the gel that fills up our eyeball starts to change as we age and we start to see it from inside the eye. Vitreous detachment can lead to detached retinas, so if you suddenly start seeing more floaters than you have ever noticed before, go and see a doctor. They can quickly check to see that nothing major is going on. PSV can be treated with lasers and is far more common than you think. If you only see floaters when you pick up things that are sitting on the shelves, that’s dust, and you need to sort that out.
Migraines are awful things, and most people have heard of them. They can be totally debilitating, causing great distress to those who suffer from them. Research has shown a genetic predisposition towards migraine suffering and it often runs in families. They can also be triggered by food and product allergies, for example, certain scents and chemicals used in toiletries can trigger migraines in some people. So can chocolate, stress, dehydration, fatigue and a hundred other self-reported factors.
One major cause of migraines that has scientific data backing it up is a change in hormone levels, so teenagers often suffer from them first when they hit puberty, and premenopausal women often report an increase in migraine activity, which brings us back to ocular migraines and disruptions to sight.
There is a type of headache that does not cause any pain at all, only symptoms that seem more related to eye problems than the nerves and blood vessels of the brain. Headaches are ‘all in your head’, but that’s not a joke, that is exactly what is happening.
The nervous system and the blood that feeds it are suffering from some form of disruption. Inside our brains, our nerves don’t work the same way as they do on our skin. If they did, we might ‘feel’ every thought. Instead, they work in a less acute manner. When our head throbs, that’s our brains nerves telling us we have a problem. We might need to supply our body with more water, or more rest.
These ‘silent migraines’ known as an Acephalgic headaches, are the ones that have an ‘aura’ or flashing light, or visual disruption, but no pain. Those nerves are not responding in a way that says ‘watch out! I will make this hurt so that you pay attention!’
Instead they just send out a few of the bells and whistles and none of the usual fanfare. This can be quite alarming in its own way. Normally we learn from childhood that if something is painful, we must do something to relieve the pain. The pain is there to protect us from further harm. Suddenly having ones field of vision corrupted by whizzing, zigzagging light, or crescent shaped blurry bits without any other symptoms can be bewildering and terrifying. Is it an aneurism? Are you seconds from death?
Just as with a normal headache, a silent migraine can be treated with an over the counter pain killer- even though you might not be ‘feeling’ the pain- and some rest if possible. The reason you want to take a Paracetamol is twofold. Number one, you will feel like you are doing something and number two, if you do get a more typical headache with typical headache pain, you’ve already got it covered.
In most cases the lights will go away within 20 minutes, sometimes an hour. If you have a sudden attack while driving, pull over and wait a while if you can. Stress does not assist you at this time. If you can sit it out, that would be best. If you have a sudden increase in the number of unwanted light shows in your eyes, see a doctor immediately and let them know what is going on. It’s probably nothing, but it’s always wiser to check.