Sometimes our eyes get sore, and they ache. That can happen, for example, when we’re out in the sun for long periods of time without sunglasses or staring at our digital devices for hours at a time without a break. But ocular migraines are something different. They’re more than just sore eyes. They cause a temporary vision obstruction, usually lasting for less than an hour.

Dr. Cheryl Roell describes them this way, “Most ocular migraines don’t cause total vision loss in one eye but rather a pulsing light or kaleidoscope-type of effect. The light or waviness starts either peripherally and moves centrally, or the opposite.”

Similar to migraine headaches, ocular migraines only happen on one side of the head and don’t affect both eyes. (However, there is a condition called visual migraines that does affect both eyes.)

Symptoms of Ocular Migraine

The main symptom of an ocular migraine is that your vision will be affected in one of your eyes for about an hour or less. That vision loss may be accompanied by moderate-to-severe pain and a throbbing or pulsating sensation in your eye that could get worse with movement. As with regular migraine headaches, you can also feel nauseous, vomit, and be light sensitive. Some people may experience an ocular migraine ahead of a full-on migraine headache.

Causes of Ocular Migraine

Doctors and researchers are not absolutely sure what causes an ocular migraine, however, there’s evidence to suggest that they happen due to blood vessel spasms in the retina. Other underlying issues or environmental factors may lead to the onset of an ocular migraine, such as:

  • Blocked arteries.
  • Stroke.
  • Inflammation.
  • Autoimmune diseases.
  • Hormone changes.
  • Blood clot disorders/diseases.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Stress.
  • Smoking.
  • Lighting conditions (i.e., bright sunlight, computer screens).
  • Drug abuse.
  • Dehydration.
  • Low blood sugar.
  • Excessive heat.
  • High altitude.


Because ocular migraines can cause temporary obstructions, which may interfere with your everyday tasks like reading, driving, working, etc., the first course of action is to stop what you’re doing and rest your eyes. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can also help. As will moving into a darkened room, especially if you’re light sensitive. The ocular migraine is usually short-lived, but if you find yourself getting them frequently, make a note of it on your calendar and contact your eye-care professional for a comprehensive eye exam. As is the case with migraine headaches, avoiding triggers like aged cheese, too much caffeine, and dehydration should help.