An ocular migraine with a scintillating scotoma can be very scary.
It’s like a small puddle or smudge shows up in your vision and grows until it finally triggers a migraine.
When we want to prevent our brain from triggering this series of symptoms we have to address what is causing the strain on our bodies and stress on our heads.
In this article I’m going to talk about ocular migraines as well as 3 truths you need to understand about them…
With images along the way.
What are ocular migraines?
Ocular migraines are a larger group of visual aura type migraines.
They include many different types of migraines but all have the visual disturbance such as:
- Blind spots
- Zig zags
- Seeing stars
There are two main types of ocular migraines:
– Is described by the american migraine foundation as visual symptoms occurring in only one eye before or during a migraine. This type of migraine is more serious, may lead to permanent vision loss and needs to be brought up with your doctor immediately as it may be something more serious.
Migraine with aura
– The most common presentation of migraine with aura is a visual disturbance that slowly increases, peaks and then disappears resulting in a headache. But not all migraines with aura are visual.
Ocular migraines may or may not come with head pain but are most commonly found with it.
It’s always important to bring any of these symptoms up with your doctor to be sure it’s a migraine and not something more serious.
Other common names for ocular migraines are:
- Ophthalmic migraines
- Retinal migraines
- Eye migraines
- Visual migraines
- Monocular migraines
Below is a video of a type of ocular migraine.
Common symptoms of ocular migraines
The symptoms of an ocular migraine are the same as a migraine with aura and can go through the entire process of;
Prodrome => Aura => Attack => Postdrome
But may not include an actual headache.
Common symptoms beside the visual ones included above are:
- Pain in your head on one or both sides
- Pain or stiffness in neck, shoulders or face
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Mood changes
- Light sensitivity
- Increased thirst or urination
- Pins and needles sensations
- Throbbing or pulsing pain
Ocular migraine causes
Many things may trigger an ocular migraine but we want to focus on what is causing them.
When we want to understand an ocular migraine we have to understand that they are deeply connected with cortical spreading depression which is a fancy term for the brain is going through a wave of electrical outage.
This electrical outage, if it goes over the part of the brain responsible for vision, may give us a visual migraine.
When the electricity goes out it can mean three things, either we are out of power, a breaker blew up because of too much power or the steady stream of energy is being interrupted.
This means we want to make sure that our brain is getting enough nutrients and generating enough power, but so that we aren’t expending too much.
We also want to make sure that the nutrients are getting from our gut and heart, through our blood and into our brains so that our cells can absorb them and create the energy needed to run smoothly.
Below is a video to give you an idea of what cortical spreading depression looks like. It’s basically(to keep it simple) a wave of electrical outage followed by the body ramping up blood flow to bring in nutrients and oxygen to get things running smoothly again.
We can understand these outages as being part of the natural expression of unhealthy neurons or brain cells. When these brain cells are not healthy enough to make the huge amount of energy required to function properly, they become erratic.
The lack of energy, just like for a migraineurs threshold, makes the brain cells have more erratic energy and be closer to its threshold at rest. If there are sudden spikes of energy from the surroundings this can then be enough for the neuron to fire even though it is already unhealthy and lacking enough energy to function properly.
This drains it even further and can trigger what we think of as these blackouts in the brain creating aura type symptoms.
Do ocular migraines have a risk of stroke?
As we described above there is a momentary interruption of blood flow and electrical activity followed by a big increase and webmd states that this does come with an increased risk of stroke.
It’s only logical to suppose that if the brain went through this process of being “choked up” that there might be a risk of transient ischemic attack(TIA) which is a temporary loss of oxygen but this doesn’t cause permanent damage like a stroke may.
How common are ocular migraines?
They are more common in women and have a genetic link to them.
It’s always more important to focus on the epigenetic and exposomic links because you can change those and they will affect your health far more.
Below is a great video representation of the migraine aura as it grows.
How to get rid of an ocular migraine with the 3 truths + common treatments
The most common treatment plan for ocular migranes is to make sure it’s nothing more serious and then go about a regular migraine treatment approach.
This usually means a life long sentence of medication.
Here at Migraine Professional we understand that it’s more important to focus on what is causing the underlying pathology to create the symptoms than it is to only address symptoms.
Of course you want to manage symptoms like pain, fatigue, brain fog and visual disturbances so they don’t impair your life but you want to make sure you are going about a clear plan of action to deal with the causes.
If your brain is going through this electrical “outage” “choke up” “revv” or whatever you want to call it then you want to continually address and heal the causes of those.
This means we want to look at 3 different areas.
2. Energy generation
When we are addressing any chronic disease or condition, inflammation is the first place we need to look.
Inflammation’s cousin, oxidation is the one common connection behind all headaches.
The problem is that inflammation can come from hundreds of different sources so we want to be very clear and address the biggest sources first.
The 3 big areas are:
- Leaky brain
- Food sensitivities
- Stress load
Our brain, just like our gut has a thin mesh that protects it. (called the BBB or blood brain barrier)
In our gut it helps us absorb nutrients and keeps pathogens in our gut and out of our bodies.
In our brain we have this very thin mesh of cells that protects the brain space from anything that shouldn’t be in there.
But it’s also there to allow nutrients and oxygen into the brain space so our brain can function properly.
But this mesh or wall is only one cell thick.
This means its highly sensitive and can be damage by things like lack of sleep, alcohol, stress and high blood pressure.
We need this to be strong and tight so that foreign particles cannot get into the brain space which can lead to inflammation in and around the brain.
So what do we do?
Here are three great ways to strengthen the BBB:
1. Cold showers
Cold showers are an amazing way to not only help increase the healing activities of your body but to also help the neurons of your brain fire in unison.
When they all fire together for a common source like warming you up, they aren’t wiring together to strengthen pain pathways.
1 to 2 minutes of a cold shower does wonders for all systems of the body, strengthens the vagus nerve(gut-brain axis) and makes our body work harder to provide energy so it gets better at it.
Just make sure to slowly work your way up.
2. Ample sleep
Sleep loss has been shown to weaken the blood brain barrier.
Sleep is the most essential healing process we have, and it’s free!
Never sacrifice sleep especially if you have frequent ocular migraines.
3. Heal the gut and lower blood pressure
Take on a gut healing program because of the gut-brain axis.
The connection between the gut and brain are so strong that if we experience any digestive issues they can quickly turn into brain issues as well.
A program like the 10 steps program is deeply connected to gut and brain health.
Simple foods like prebiotics, probiotics, soluble fibers and phytonutrients are all essential for gut health.
If you heal the gut, you will already start to lower blood pressure but some other tips like; making sure you are killing your stress levels throughout the day with a mindfulness practise, switching from table salt to sea salt, lowering excess carbohydrate intake, eating lots of dark chocolate and getting enough magnesium and potassium in your diet will take you a long way to lower blood pressure.
Next we have food sensitivities and this is an incredibly important section if you experience migraines as some of the most successful studies ever done on migraine patients involved only dietary changes.
These studies tout some statistics like 85% becoming headache free and 100% improving.(Link)
But I can’t explain it all here because it’s beyond the scope of ocular migraines so instead get the food triggers guide available here.
The food triggers guide is a simple but thorough step by step that explain what causes food sensitivities and how to heal the gut to get tolerance to food back.
Here are the 10 most common migraine food sensitivities but these are not specific to you and everyone is different:
- Coffee and Tea
- Cane sugar
If you are looking for a great way to understand and manage food sensitivities, see the food triggers guide here.
Stress comes in a huge variety of ways including:
– Mental stress from being hyper focused all day
– Emotional stress from relationships or trauma
– Dietary stress from poor food choices
– Environmental stress from hygiene products, cleaning supplies, off gassing, electromagnetic fields,
– Postural stress from sitting and being sedentary
It’s important to address each of these areas and they are all covered in the 10 steps program.
You can do your part by identifying where in your life you are living out of harmony with nature.
In natural settings:
- We don’t hyperfocus or obsess over things
- We have a strong relationship with our bodies and minds as well as the people and environment around us
- We don’t fear thoughts and we engage any repetitive ideas that keep coming back from traumas so that we can work through them, learn and become better by them
- We feel when our body is actually hungry, feel what foods will agree with it best, feel when we’ve eaten enough and only eat foods created by nature
- We live in an environment that is constantly changing and giving us new stimuli for our bodies and immune systems to adapt-to and grow-to without overloading us with harmful chemicals that add to our inflammatory burden
- We are constantly on the move and not letting poor positions like sitting at desks and on couches program our musculoskeletal system to create tension without exercise to undo it
- The list goes on and these are easier said than done so if you find any of these too much to handle yourself make sure you get the support of a professional.
2. Energy generation
This is a complex topic but I will make it simple for the purposes of this article.
Every single one of our cells has a power house within it that generate energy molecules so that the cell can run properly.
Our brain cells are the same and they need nutrients to be available so they can pick and choose which building blocks they need to continue the process.
There are a few key areas in this process that many migraine sufferers have been found to be deficient in and fixing these will go a long way to providing resiliency.
They help this energy generation cycle run along smoothly so our brain doesn’t get choked up.
The three are:
CoQ10 has been studied in doses of 150mg – 300mg a day and is very safe.
Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral and is very deficient in any migraine sufferers as well as having a strong connection to cortical spreading depression.
Many start at 200mg a day and work their way up to bowel tolerance but making sure you are getting magnesium and potassium through diet is the most important.
These two are able to be supplemented with and take little to no time out of your day.
Then we have oxygen.
Getting more oxygen into your brain is as simple as breathing.
But we need to do it slowly, deeply, into our bellies and throughout the day to get the smooth energy we want.
Essentially, we need to retrain our breath so that it’s slower, deeper and lower than we are currently doing it.
An amazing benefit to retraining our breath is that studies show within a few minutes of deep breathing we can drop our cortisol(stress hormone) in half.
Low stress means lower chances for trigger.
To finish this off we need to make sure that the nutrients we are taking into our bodies are actually getting to our brain without being obstructed.
This is why getting a proper physical assessment from someone like a NUCCA chiropractor, osteopath or a CHEK practitioner is necessary.
Take a look at your posture, standing and sitting.
Are your shoulders rounded, is your butt sticking out or are there exaggerated curves in your spine?
There can be many postures that will compromise our body’s ability to deliver nutrients to our brains.(and be able to take waste away from them)
See our article on cervicogenic headaches to learn more about posture and headaches than you ever have.
Then we have movement.
Our body uses movement to restructure itself and “reset” its posture.
Make sure to get out and move.
Use fascial stretches like eldoa to address the web that ties your musculature together called fascia. Video below:
When we understand ocular migraines and any disease or condition from the very roots that it comes from such as inflammation, oxidation, stress and deficiency then we can begin to address the issue, heal and create long term health.
This is a way better way to approach ocular migraines and we can become healthier and live more fulfilled lives because of it.
Believing we are stuck sick for our entire lives does nothing but take away our power and will to live our best lives.
Our body has the most sophisticated system for repair and immunity in the world, thousands of years more advanced than even the best technology we have. We just need to learn how to support it properly.
Comment below and let me know if you’ve ever experienced an ocular migraine and what it was like.
If you need answers, reach out.
Share to spread the information and help others.