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An ocular headache is a type of migraine that affects the eyes and vision. Despite its name, pain may not always be a symptom of an ocular headache, though it certainly can be. Frequently, a visual disturbance called a migraine aura may be the only symptom. Though the pain and visual symptoms of an ocular headache are temporary and usually will not cause any permanent damage to the eyes, ocular headache sufferers should take care during daily activities and avoid driving while symptoms persist. Ocular headaches generally do not last longer than 30 minutes and may be as short as five minutes.
The visual disturbances experienced during an ocular headache can be alarming but are usually not a sign of a more serious condition. Visual disturbances may range from visible spots of color or light to wavy lines, distorted images, or even blind spots. These effects can occur in one or both eyes, but if vision loss or visual disturbances happen frequently or only in one eye, it may be a sign of a condition called a retinal migraine. Visual disturbances can also be symptoms of conditions other than ocular headaches, such as strokes, and should be evaluated by a doctor.
Ocular headaches are sometimes also referred to as ocular migraines. This term is confusing because the term “ocular migraine” often refers to two separate conditions. One of these conditions is known as a retinal migraine or an ophthalmic migraine. Retinal migraines cause visual disturbances in one eye and are more serious than migraines with auras that affect both eyes. While retinal migraines should be evaluated by a doctor, migraines with auras can usually be treated with rest and over-the-counter medication.
There is some debate in the medical community as to what causes migraine headaches. Migraines are thought to be caused by the dilation or constriction of blood vessels in the head as a reaction to a variety of situations ranging from serotonin levels to stress. When this happens, the blood flow to the occipital lobe and visual cortex in the brain is affected, which can lead to visual disturbances. Not all migraine headaches will develop into an ocular headache, and not all ocular headaches will involve the severe pain usually associated with a migraine. Though the direct cause of migraines is unclear, there are several common triggers that can be avoided, including smoking, high blood pressure, altitude changes, and a number of other factors.