Migraines and vision loss

By Robert Salas

It was 2 a.m. I got out of bed to quench my parched mouth. No lights on, I stumbled across my apartment toward the kitchen. I felt lightheaded and a bit out of it but I attributed that to the fact that I had just woken up from a dead sleep. As I turned on the kitchen light, I noticed something very wrong . . . I couln’t see out of my left eye.

I experienced this phenomenon before during a less intense version of this alleged migraine headache. So I thought I’d give it an hour and most likely my vision would return. No such luck. I started to panic. My heart rate increased, my breathing became erratic and I let out a tear or two (after all losing one’s sight is an extremely daunting experience). After a long wait in the emergency room, my head CT scan came out clean. The doctors wanted to rule out the possibility of a stroke or other serious ailments. At this point my vision came and went sporadically until finally, I could see relatively clearly again but, with the occasional burst of light in the corner of my visual spectrum, aka a migraine aura. And so, I experienced the most intense, painful and scary retinal migraine of my life, with a dull head pain lasting for about a week and a half.

So what happened exactly?

In short, a retinal migraine is a sub-type of migraine that occurs in one eye and can be triggered by a variety of different factors. According to American Migraine Foundation, there are no diagnostic tests to confirm a retinal migraine.

” Diagnosis is accomplished by reviewing the patient’s personal and family medical history, studying their symptoms, and conducting an examination. Retinal migraine is then diagnosed by ruling out other causes for the symptoms. With retinal migraine, it is essential that other causes of transient blindness, such as stroke of the eye (amaurosis fugax), be fully investigated and ruled out. Seeing an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for a full eye exam is generally required for a good look at the back of the eyes.” – American Migraine Foundation on retinal migraine diagnosis.

Know your triggers!


In the past, when I experienced short-lived temporary blindness followed by blinding head-pain, it was triggered by specific lifestyle factors. I came to the conclusion that these factors played a major role in my most recent attack. According to the Mayo Clinic, migraine triggers vary from person to person. My migraine triggers include: too much caffeine, not enough water, high-stress levels and sudden changes in sleep patterns. These however, are my personal triggers. Below is a generalized list of possible triggers from the Mayo Clinic.

  • Hormonal changes in women.
  • Foods.
  • Food additives. The sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), found in many foods, may trigger migraines.
  • Drinks. Alcohol, especially wine, and highly caffeinated beverages may trigger migraines.
  • Stress. Stress at work or home can cause migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli. Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds. Strong smells — including perfume, paint thinner, secondhand smoke and others.
  • Changes in wake-sleep pattern. Missing sleep or getting too much sleep may trigger migraines in some people, as can jet lag.
  • Physical factors. Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity, may provoke migraines.
  • Changes in the environment. A change of weather or barometric pressure can prompt a migraine.
  • Medications. Oral contraceptives and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, can aggravate migraines.

It is absolutely imperative that I state, you must see a doctor and get a professional diagnosis. 

I am not a medical expert, however experiencing these retinal migraines is an emotional trauma  and can be physically debilitating. If I can give any advice on this topic it’s this: stay calm, do not panic, center yourself and find a friend or family member to drive you the hospital ASAP. Obviously not all cases of vision loss are caused by retinal migraines. Vision loss is a very serious condition and if not properly diagnosed and treated, can be life threatening.

As for those who have been professionally diagnosed with retinal migraines, it is a lifestyle to continue monitoring your personal triggers and following your doctors orders.

Have you had a scary experience with vision loss and migraines? Tell me about it in the comments.



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