Migraine auras are sensory symptoms that can occur before or during a headache. They tend to take the form of visual and physical disturbances or sensations.
Migraine with aura is a type of migraine headache. Common symptoms include tunnel vision, seeing stars, and tingling sensations in the hands or feet. Of those who experience migraine headaches, 25–30% experience additional aura symptoms.
Migraine aura symptoms usually appear over a period of at least 5 minutes and tend to last for up to
Read on to learn more about the types of migraine with aura and the available treatment options.
Visual disturbance auras
Some examples of visual changes associated with migraine aura include seeing:
- blind spots, called scotomas
- colored spots
- flashes of light
- stars or sparkles of light
- zigzag lines
- tunnel vision
These often start in the center of a person’s field of vision before moving outward. People may also experience temporary vision loss or blindness during a migraine episode.
Physical sensation auras
For some people, auras involve physical sensations, such as tingling, numbness, and dizziness. These sensations may start on one side of the body before spreading slowly to other areas.
Physical aura sensations can include:
- a feeling that body parts are larger than they really are
- pins and needles in the arms and legs
- numbness or tingling sensations
- vertigo (spinning dizziness)
- muscle weakness on one side
Speech or language difficulty auras
During a migraine episode, some people may find it difficult to speak or communicate with others. They may have difficulty finding the right words to use, or they may mumble or slur their speech.
Along with these other sensations, migraine aura may cause:
- memory changes
- feelings of fear
- smelling something that is not there
- partial paralysis or fainting, in rare cases
Around 30% of people who experience migraine headaches also experience migraine with aura. However, some subtypes of migraine are particularly likely to involve auras.
Specialists have previously referred to migraine with aura as classic migraine, focal migraine, aphasic migraine, and complicated migraine.
Other rare types of migraine that cause auras include:
This is a rare type of migraine that involves temporary weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. Other symptoms include pins and needles and numbness. The weakness typically goes away within 24 hours, but it may last for several days.
According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, researchers do not know the true prevalence of hemiplegic migraine. However, some research suggests that it affects around 1 in 10,000 people.
Migraine with brainstem aura
Migraine with brainstem aura, formerly known as basilar-type migraine, is rare.
The most common symptoms appear to be:
The researchers conclude that migraine with brainstem aura may occasionally happen to anyone who experiences migraine with aura.
Retinal migraine is another rare subtype of migraine aura. It affects vision in one eye only. It may cause temporary blindness or the appearance of flickering lights in that eye.
Medical professionals do not fully understand the exact cause of migraine headaches.
Migraine with visual aura may occur when a wave of electrical activity moves across the visual cortex of the brain, which is the part that processes visual signals.
Triggers for migraine with aura are the same as triggers for migraine without aura and include:
- alcohol consumption, especially wine consumption
- caffeine consumption
- exposure to bright lights or strong sun
- food and food additives, such as aged cheeses, processed foods, and monosodium glutamate
- hormonal fluctuations in females (due to pregnancy, menstruation, or oral contraceptives, for example)
- intense physical activity or overexertion
- lack of sleep or too much sleep
- medications, such as the use of oral contraceptives or vasodilators for high blood pressure
- strong smells, such as that of smoke, perfume, or gasoline
- weather changes or barometric pressure changes
Factors that increase the risk of developing migraine, including migraine with aura, include:
The treatment options for migraine with aura are similar to those for other types of migraine. Treatment depends on the frequency and severity of a person’s symptoms and may include:
The following over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can help treat migraine with aura:
- anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
- migraine relief medications, such as Excedrin Migraine
- anti-nausea medications to reduce nausea and vomiting
- dihydroergotamines, in the form of a nasal spray or injection
- CGRP receptor antagonists such as Nurtec and Ubrelvy
- triptans, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosymra) or rizatriptan (Maxalt), to block the brain’s pain signals
People who experience frequent or severe migraine headaches may benefit from preventive medications. These include:
- amitriptyline, which is a tricyclic antidepressant, or other antidepressants
- antiseizure drugs
- blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers
- Botox injections
Some medical devices, such as single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation devices, may help reduce migraine pain by stimulating the brain in specific ways.
These devices use pulses of magnetic energy. People must place them on the head for a few moments to see results.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies
Home remedies may help alleviate some migraine symptoms, while lifestyle changes can help prevent onset.
Home remedies for treating migraine include:
- taking a nap when symptoms first appear
- lying down in a quiet, cool, dark room
- placing a cool compress or ice pack on the forehead or back of the neck
Lifestyle changes that may help prevent migraine episodes include:
- practicing stress reduction techniques, including yoga, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation exercises
- sticking to a consistent sleep routine, with the same bedtime and wake time every day
- eating a balanced diet that is low in processed foods and food additives
- drinking plenty of water and limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- avoiding migraine triggers, where possible
For severe or recurrent migraine episodes, it is usually most effective to use medical treatments alongside home care strategies.
People who experience symptoms of migraine with aura should speak with their doctor as soon as possible.
It is best not to assume that these symptoms are related migraine unless you have already discussed your auras with your doctor and they have ruled out other conditions.
People should also contact a doctor if the symptoms:
- last for longer than 1 hour
- occur in only one eye
- do not completely resolve with time
In these cases, a doctor will likely perform tests to rule out more serious conditions, such as stroke or retinal tear.
Migraine with aura can be uncomfortable and debilitating, but it is not life threatening. However, these symptoms can be concerning, and a healthcare professional should rule out other neurological causes before attributing aura symptoms to migraine.
Trying home care strategies and taking OTC medications can help most people manage their symptoms until the headache or episode subsides.
Those who experience recurrent or severe migraine headaches may require prescription medications or medical devices to manage their symptoms and help prevent future episodes.