Eye migraines-- also called ophthalmic, ocular or retinal migraines-- commonly produce visual symptoms with or without a headache 24. Although the exact cause is not known, the website All About Vision reports that migraines may be caused by changes in blood flow to the brain's visual cortex or occipital lobe-- the areas of the brain responsible for vision 4. Possible triggers include hormonal changes, flashing lights, chemicals in foods or medications, stress, allergies, and dental problems.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Neurotransmitter Abnormalities

According to the Envision Eye Center, migraines may be caused by abnormal functioning of the neurotransmitter called serotonin 2. This chemical enables nerve impulses to be passed from one nerve cell to the next. During a migraine attack, the serotonin causes the blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. On rare occasions this process may cause a stroke.

Migraine Triggers

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Dr. Robert Abel, author of "The Eye Care Revolution," reports that migraines are often caused by stress, and triggers differ for each individual 2. According to Abel, triggers may include sweets; fruit; nuts; breads and cereals; meat; dairy; alcohol, especially red wine, which contains sulfites; estrogen replacement therapy; and oral contraceptives.

Flashing Lights

According to Abel, eye migraines can be initiated by light pulsing at just the right rate 2. He reports that light can enter the eye at an angle and stimulate the peripheral retina, which then discharges electrical impulses perceived as flashes of light, creating an aura. Strobe lights can stimulate the entire retina and cause seizures. Even the pulsing of fluorescent lights can make vision uncomfortable.

Retinal Migraine

Headaches classified as common, classic or cluster migraines generally cause visual symptoms that are temporary and not serious. However, ocular, ophthalmic and retinal migraines are complicated migraines that can be very serious and are associated with eye problems 24. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, a retinal migraine is a rare condition that can cause vision loss or blindness 3. Cassel, Billig and Randall report that during retinal migraines, the blood vessels supplying the retina and optic nerve constrict. Diagnosis is made by ruling out other causes of pain and vision loss, such as a blood clot or detached retina.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

According to Abel, stress can cause a person to clench his teeth, causing pain in the temporomandibular joint. The pain may then radiate throughout the head, including the eyes. Inflammation, teeth abnormalities and impaired jaw movements may contribute to a TMJ disorder.