Ocular migraine is a term people use to describe migraine that causes visual symptoms. It is not a distinct medical condition. People with COVID-19 can also experience migraine-like headaches, which may include these visual symptoms.
The temporary visual changes migraine can cause are known as aura. People may see lines, spots, flashes of light, or blind spots before the headache begins. Around 25–30% of individuals with migraine experience aura.
Migraine with aura differs from retinal migraine, which is a rare subtype that causes significant vision changes in one eye. This can include decreased vision and temporary blindness.
In this article, we discuss whether there is a link between ocular migraine and COVID-19. We also examine whether ocular migraine is a long COVID symptom and discuss potential treatments.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ocular migraine is a term people use to refer to migraine subtypes with visual disturbances, such as migraine with aura. Individuals also sometimes use it interchangeably with retinal migraine, although the two are different.
Migraine with aura
Migraine with aura results in sensory symptoms that can occur before or during a migraine episode. They can involve changes in a person’s sight, hearing, or physical sensations. When the aura is visual, the symptoms affect both eyes.
Aura may last for
Some examples of visual aura include:
- blind spots
- floating zigzag lines or patterns
- flashing or flickering lights
- colored lines and spots
- shimmering spots or stars
Retinal migraine is a rare condition that causes temporary vision loss in one eye that can occur several times per day. Each attack lasts
If a headache occurs, it will develop within
- blurred vision
- flashing lights
- blind spots
- partial vision loss
- complete vision loss
Sometimes, retinal migraine causes complications, such as permanent vision loss.
Headache is a common symptom of COVID-19. In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that, out of more than 55,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, headaches were a symptom in
According to a 2021 review, 25% of people with headaches during COVID-19 present with migraine-like symptoms. This can happen even if they have no history of migraine.
People in this group may experience aura as other individuals with migraine do. However, it is unclear how common this is.
COVID-19 may worsen migraine symptoms in people who already have the condition. For some, this may include aura.
For example, one case study looked at three female patients with a history of migraine without aura that previously responded to treatment. With COVID-19, they experienced more severe migraine with aura that did not respond to typical pain medication.
However, as this was a case study on a very small group of people, it does not conclusively prove that COVID-19 was responsible, nor that it was a common occurrence. Therefore, more research is necessary to understand how the disease affects migraine.
Long COVID refers to lingering or new symptoms that persist after the initial COVID-19 infection. According to the
Scientists are still investigating how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, causes persistent headaches. Many current theories involve the trigeminal nerve, which starts behind the ear and branches out to the eye, nose, and jaw.
The continued activation of the immune system and trigeminal pathways may play a role in long COVID headaches.
If a person experiences ocular migraine during a COVID-19 infection, they may find it helpful to:
- take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication as soon as symptoms appear
- lie down in a dark room
- avoid any triggers, such as bright lights
OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also help with other COVID-19 symptoms, such as body aches or fever.
However, if migraine persists after the initial infection with the disease, people may need ongoing treatment. Doctors have not yet developed medications specifically for COVID-19-related headaches. They may recommend existing migraine treatments, such as:
- triptans, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- dihydroergotamine nasal spray (Migranal)
- calcitonin gene-related peptide antagonists, such as ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) and rimegepant (Nurtec ODT)
- anti-nausea drugs, such as metoclopramide (Reglan) or prochlorperazine (Compro)
- Botox injections
However, people who have had a stroke, uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, and certain types of migraine need to avoid taking triptans and ergotamines. A doctor can offer more advice on what medications might be suitable.
If a person thinks they may have COVID-19, they should stay home and follow local guidelines for getting a test.
Seek emergency help if someone develops severe COVID-19 symptoms, such as:
- difficulty breathing
- blue, white, or gray lips or nails
- new confusion
- loss of consciousness
Anyone experiencing lingering or new headaches after COVID-19 should contact a doctor. A healthcare professional can help develop a plan to improve symptoms and quality of life. They can also rule out other causes.
People should also get emergency help if they experience:
- a sudden, severe headache
- sudden vision changes, such as blind spots, that do not go away
- sudden facial drooping
- sudden weakness in the arms, legs, or down one side of the body
- difficulty talking or moving
Headache is a common symptom of COVID-19, and in some cases, the symptoms are similar to migraine. Some people report experiencing ocular migraine, or migraine with aura, during or after the infection. They may have temporary visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or spots, before a headache begins.
At the moment, it is unclear how commonly people with COVID-19 experience ocular migraine or what the link between COVID-19 and visual aura is. More research is necessary to understand if or how COVID-19 causes it.