Are Ocular Migraines Dangerous?

Updated on July 17, 2019
Marsei profile image

I grew up in Arkansas, live outside New Orleans. I often write about my own ailments because I'm an expert on them!

The pattern I see during an ocular migraine.
The pattern I see during an ocular migraine.

Facing the Music: Getting Help From a Professional

For almost a year, I had times when I would see a certain shimmering in my eyes. I ignored it. If I was working on my computer, I found a reason to get up and do something, and usually, when I sat back down, it was gone. The picture you see is the "pattern." The jagged lines follow no particular shape. They seem to be random, just silver-colored lines.

My husband and I have a knack for ignoring any health problem until it becomes impossible to do so any longer. I remember having the jagged lights frequently before I decided they might be a warning of a stroke. At that point, I bit the bullet. The thing that made them "different" or caused me to make a decision about getting help was the fact that I was working on an expedited deposition and could no longer see well enough to continue working. When they occurred before, I always got up and walked around, I suppose, long enough for them to go away. Sitting still made me realize they were obscuring my vision.

What I see when in the throes of an ocular migraine: disrupted images.
What I see when in the throes of an ocular migraine: disrupted images.

My Visit With a Neurologist and His Advice and Counsel

When I am having one of the migraines, I can see, but the jagged silvery, shimmering lights block parts of my view. Once I decided to do something about the whole situation, I felt relieved. My primary care doctor recommended a neurologist and I made an appointment.

I was comforted when the doctor who walked in the examination room wore SAS shoes, casual clothes and was about my age, mid-70s. He introduced himself, we talked about life in general for about five minutes, then he asked me to describe my symptoms. I did, telling him that I get a circle of jagged silver lights in the center of my vision. They shimmer and shine and gradually move toward the outside of my vision and finally go away. It seems to be a process that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. When I was ignoring it, I realize now that I likely fiddled around, putting in a load of clothes, getting the mail, putting up clean clothes, etc., long enough for it to run its course. I told him I was concerned that it might be a visual disturbance that had some connection to stroke. I have AFib, which is no big deal, but I am more careful with anything having to do with my heart or vascular system these days.

As I was telling him about whatever it was -- I had never, ever heard the term "ocular migraine" in my life -- I noticed that he was smiling. It was annoying and I finally asked him "Why are you amused?" He apologized and explained that the year before, he began having the same thing, and that's when I learned about ocular migraines. I asked him 10,000 questions at least, of course, including what causes them. He didn't seem quite certain but said a lot of the literature points to hormones. I found this pretty fascinating because before menopause, I had horrendous migraine headaches. They were just the most painful things imaginable, often causing me to vomit to the point of dry heaving. After menopause was over, they went away. The ocular ones started last year when I was 71. My children always tell me I'm in "perpetual menopause," so maybe when it (finally) stopped, they began. The whole hormone thing just sounded right to me. I wanted badly to ask the doctor how hormones were involved with his, but figured I'd best mind my own business.

I learned the headaches are annoying but harmless—like seeing half a squirrel!
I learned the headaches are annoying but harmless—like seeing half a squirrel!

The Prognosis

The doc and I spoke for a rather long time. I learned that the most important element with the ocular migraines is time. He told me that they are not harmful and can't hurt me as long as that is all that is happening. He said they should last only about 15 minutes. He said if they go on much longer than that, they may be something more serious and to get to an ER. When he said that, I thought I would panic every time one came, but I find they bother me less because I know what they are. I use the 10 or 15 minutes they last to be very still, to meditate, sometimes I even listen to music. I am religious about timing them. They are always over in about 12 minutes. They have come less often recently. I have one about every two months now. To answer the title of this article, they are not dangerous. They are annoying, and if I'm working, I have to stop until they go away because my vision blurs. Other than that, I would always chose ten minutes of blurred vision without pain over a pounding, painful migraine.

I Believe Stress Plays a Major Role in Triggering the Ocular Migraines

I have become more and more aware recently of just how large a part stress plays in my life. I'm sure the doctor knows more than I about the cause of the ocular migraines, but the stress in my life has decreased considerably over the last few months and the "episodes" have slowed down. I have only two health issues of any consequence other than the fact that I am overweight and, like everyone else, I'm going to fix that -- soon. The other issue in addition to the ocular migraines is AFib. I notice that when I am under a great deal of stress, my heart goes out of rhythm. I meditate more, deep breathe more, walk outside more often and try to exercise more. The things that cause me stress are situational and usually have to do with work. (Yes, I still work at almost 72 and will as long as my brain works.) It's easy to say stress is beyond my control, but it is not. There are so many ways to handle it. I'm trying some different vitamins and a different way of eating.

I wrote this article because the ocular migraines were frightening to me when I didn't know what they were. So if one day you see a shimmering circle of silver jagged lines, take heart. It's likely just a small something you can easily live with. See a neurologist and be sure that's all it is. I'm certain there are numerous articles online that have information regarding this phenomenon. I read the information on Mayo Clinic's site and quit reading. I have learned not to do too much research because my imagination takes wing and I scare myself to death! Just remember, they won't wound or kill you. Actually, if I had my choice, I'd chose them over a migraine anytime because there is absolutely no pain.

Another thing that brings me comfort is that my father-in-law, who lived with us for the last seven years of his life, often complained to me of shimmering lights in his eyes, silvery and jagged. We spoke to his doctors about it, but they seemed to think it had to do with his cataract surgeries. I wonder. And by the way, he lived to be almost 90 years old!


I don't want to get too very excited, but I have not had one of these visual disturbances in almost six months. I was going through a very stressful time when I was having them and things have been much calmer lately. That is the only explanation I have for the fact that they have disappeared. Of course, they may come back, and I'll add another postscript if they do. For now, they are gone. So if you happen to have them, meditate, do affirmations, breathe deeply periodically. If you work as I do, take short breaks, get up and walk around. Limit caffeine. Three cups of coffee a day is more than enough. These are things I've been doing in the last few months and they've, obviously, made a difference. Good luck!

Post Script

I thought I should add this postscript to give hope to those who have optical migraines. I have not had one in almost six months. They went away as suddenly as they came. I am convinced mine were caused by stress. I was going through a very stressful period when they began and it has recently resolved. Of course, there is no guarantee they will not return, but for now, they are gone.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Sue Pratt


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      • profile image

        sue pratt 

        13 months ago

        Hi, Nellie. Thanks for commenting. I'm glad it helped allay your fears a bit! They scared me a lot at first. Now I just time them and wait fr them to stop. I wish you luck with the specialist and glad you are getting professional help.

        Thanks again for your comment.

      • profile image

        Nellie Sierra 

        13 months ago

        Thank you so much for this information. Just got my first Ocular Migraine two days ago and it really scared me. Went to Dr. and told me what it was. He's sending me to a specialist. But thank you again. Now am not to scared!!

      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        13 months ago from New Orleans

        Dorothy, Thank you so much for your comment. I have never had any side effects, just a matter of waiting for my vision to clear if I'm working. I would definitely choose these over painful migraine headaches. Good luck with yours.

      • profile image

        Dorothy Stewart 

        13 months ago

        Have had Ocular Migraines for several years. I didn' t know what to call them. Asked my eye Dr.about the problem and he had never heard of the problem. On my next visit to him, he said he had done some reasearch on my problem and told me it was migrain of the eye. I am 86 years old and still have the problem sometimes. I agree with the other comments here, they last about 20 minutes.Other than being distracted for several minutes, there are no other side effects.

      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        15 months ago from New Orleans

        Pam, I'm glad to know someone else moved from the painful ones to the ocular ones. I'll take these any day.

      • profile image

        Pam Pollock 

        15 months ago

        Like you I had no idea what this was. I am 62 and also have lost the painful,sickly migraines and have oculars occasionally.Usually they pass within 20 mins,I usually take a paracetamol (more as a precaution) and have a sweet cappuccino and a biscuit.Yesterday,I had two in one day and strangely did feel a touch fuzzy but all passed in the usual time and feel great today !!

      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        2 years ago from New Orleans

        Nicole, the hormone theory made sense to me and that helps confirm it. I think it's definitely hormone related. I'm sure that was scary stuff when you were pregnant. I wonder how many people have them and just attribute it to getting up too fast. Thanks for your comment.

      • kittythedreamer profile image

        Kitty Fields 

        2 years ago from Summerland

        Sue - I had these during my last pregnancy, so the hormone-cause-theory makes a LOT of sense! It freaked me out the first time I got one...was at work...night shift as a nurse at the hospital...and all of a sudden, I couldn't read the screen to pull the meds from the system! My charge nurse made me sit down and wait it out...I got scared I was having a stroke at first. It happened maybe 3 times, and I looked it up and realized it was ocular migraines.

      • Marsei profile imageAUTHOR

        Sue Pratt 

        2 years ago from New Orleans

        Thanks, Stoil for the caffeine info. I haven't had the stabbing pain but who knows. I mostly ignore them! Sure would enjoy a hub about the beauty of Ireland full of amazing photos!?

      • m0rd0r profile image

        Stoill Barzakov 

        2 years ago from Sofia, Bulgaria

        I have those, every now and then. Noticed that strong smell and bright light are the most often "trigger", while caffeine helps me reduce the stabbing pain that shows up after the "aura" in front of my eyes goes away.

        So a coffee and a coke-light is my "cure" :)

        Stay strong.


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