Migraine is a common neurological condition that triggers severe, one-sided head pain, vision problems, nausea, and light sensitivity attacks.

There are several types of migraine, including those that doctors used to categorize under ocular migraine.

Ocular migraine is sometimes used to describe episodes that causes visual symptoms. Retinal migraine is a specific type of ocular migraine that causes visual symptoms in one eye.

This article explains more about what the terms “ocular migraine” and “retinal migraine” mean. It also details symptoms, causes, and treatments.

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Ocular migraine is an older term meaning any migraine episode with visual symptoms. The term “ocular” means that a health issue starts in the eye. However, all types of migraine begin in the brain, meaning that ocular migraine episodes are not ocular in nature.

Doctors now favor more specific terms, such as “retinal migraine,” to diagnose this subtype. Retinal migraine refers to migraine episodes with visual symptoms that occur in one eye. This term is more accurate and help doctors administer more specific treatments.

However, some clinicians and researchers may still use the term “ocular.”

What is retinal migraine?

Retinal migraine episodes start with visual symptoms in one eye. They occur either alongside a migraine episode or within an hour of an episode starting.

These symptoms include:

  • patches of reduced vision or vision loss
  • temporary blindness
  • twinkling lights, known as scintillations

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, at least two of the following apply to retinal migraine:

  • Symptoms develop over 5 minutes.
  • They last between 5 and 60 minutes.
  • A headache follows within 60 minutes or happens alongside retinal symptoms.

Learn more about migraine.

Migraine with aura is another subtype of ocular migraine that causes visual symptoms. The symptoms of this subtype have some differences from those of retinal migraine.

An awareness of these differences can help people tell which episode they are having and take appropriate action.

Sometimes, migraine episodes with visual symptoms can occur without a headache.

Migraine with aura causes shapes, zigzags, and lights in both eyes. Auras also remain visible when the eyes close, whereas retinal migraine symptoms only affect one eye.

Learn more about migraine with aura, retinal migraine, and ocular migraine.

It is important to speak with a doctor about any sudden changes in vision. Ocular migraine and retinal migraine have symptoms that may be similar to symptoms of a stroke, which can include:

  • vision loss in one or both eyes
  • sudden confusion and weakness
  • sudden speech troubles
  • sudden headaches
  • sudden dizziness

Women who have migraine with aura may be more likely to have a stroke, according to the AMF.

Seeking medical attention can help people rule out a stroke and identify what type of migraine episode they are experiencing.

Learn more about stroke symptoms.

Migraine occurs when nerves activate inside the brain’s blood vessel walls. However, the reason this happens in some people and not others is unclear.

Some research suggests that retinal migraine happens when nerves in the layer of cells at the back of the eye deactivate.

Certain elements of a person’s daily life, environment, and diet can trigger a retinal migraine episode. These elements include:

There are no clear treatment guidelines for retinal migraine. Some medications for other types of migraine, like triptans, can make vision loss last longer, according to the AMF.

Visual disturbances usually play out for about an hour once they start. A person who experiences episodes once a month will likely not need treatment.

The first line of treatment for retinal treatment is prevention, usually through the following methods:

Some preventive medications can help reduce the number of episodes a person experiences. These medications include:

Daily low dose aspirin can also be helpful.

Learn about home remedies for migraine.

Doctors consider retinal migraine to be a benign condition, meaning that it causes no lasting health effects, even though its symptoms can sometimes disrupt day-to-day life and be painful.

However, taking certain migraine medications, such as beta-blockers and ergots, may increase the risk of permanent vision loss. It is important to avoid these medications when treating retinal migraine.

All types of ocular migraine take trial and error and time to manage. They often involve permanent lifestyle changes to avoid triggers and an ongoing course of medication.

A person should speak with their doctor about the best lifestyle changes and medications for their needs.

Retinal migraine is a type of ocular migraine. The terms “ocular” and “retinal” are sometimes used to mean the same thing, even though they differ.

Ocular migraine is a term some doctors used to describe a subtype of migraine that causes visual symptoms. Now, doctors generally prefer to use the term “retinal migraine.” Retinal migraine is a rare type of migraine that causes temporary vision loss and scintillation in one eye.

Most retinal migraine episodes do not lead to severe health outcomes, even though they can be painful and sometimes interfere with daily activities.

A person may wish to avoid triggers like smoking, certain foods, and dehydration. Some medications — like calcium-channel blockers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medication — can also reduce the frequency of retinal migraine episodes.

It is important for an individual to speak with a doctor about retinal migraine symptoms, as they are similar to some symptoms of a stroke. Identifying stroke symptoms early can help the person seek help quickly.