3 Things to Know When a Migraine May Be More Than a Headache

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Nearly 13 percent of American adults, or 38 million people, suffer from migraines. Most experience pounding headaches and nausea. But many others have an ocular migraine that impacts their vision but doesn’t cause pain. Here are three things to know about ocular migraines.


Many people who suffer from migraines first notice vision changes, called an aura, indicating that they’re about to experience head pain. But with ocular (or ophthalmic) migraines, people also have an aura but without pain.

Ocular migraines cause vision problems in one or both eyes. Sufferers report seeing zig-zag lines or waves, spots, flashes of light, or experience cloudy, blurry or double vision. Some even have temporary vision loss. The symptoms usually disappear within five to 20 minutes.

Although ocular migraines may not be harmful, people experiencing them should contact their eye doctor for an evaluation to rule out medical conditions, such as eye or heart problems.


Medical professionals believe painful migraines and ocular migraines have the same root cause: irregular electrical activity in the brain. Genetics also can play a part since more women than men are affected. Both types of migraines also may be triggered by stress, weather changes, and bright light, or after eating foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Studies show that as women age, they may have fewer painful migraines and more ocular migraines.


People experiencing ocular migraines have common sensory symptoms, including:

  • Tingling, numbness or odd sensations throughout their body, including the face, hands, tongue, legs, and feet
  • Pain on one side of the head
  • Difficulty speaking, writing, pronouncing words
  • In rare cases, people have experienced memory loss concerning events that occurred before the aura, as well as vomiting, abdominal pain, and vertigo.