Ocular migraine seems to be an increasingly popular diagnosis these days. Unfortunately, the term is also causing a great deal of confusion. So let’s try to find our way to some clearer information.
The word ocular (sometimes spelt occular) relates to vision, or the eye itself. So we can at least tell that ocular migraine has to do with vision or eye problems. The problem is, the standard of headache classification from the International Headache Society doesn’t use this term.
So what we’ve ended up with are a number of different definitions. In other words, there is no one proper definition for ocular migraine. As a matter of fact, it would be helpful if the term was dropped altogether.
So what was your doctor talking about?
From what I’ve found, the most traditional use of the term is for a type of migraine that causes blindness. The blindness is in just one eye, and is either full or partial.
A better term for this type of migraine is retinal migraine. It’s very important to rule out other eye problems before you get a diagnosis of retinal migraine (for example optic neuropathy).
It’s possible your doctor is actually talking about migraine with aura (see this entry at the Mayo Clinic on ocular migraine). The aura would be the visual disturbances (read more about migraine and aura here). The visual disturbances may come before the headache, or there may be visual problems with no headache at all. These are much more common that retinal migraine. In migraine with aura, the visual symptoms are generally in both eyes.
There are other types of migraine that could involve visual disturbances, such as familial hemiplegic migraine. It is important to get a more specific diagnosis if you’ve been told you have ocular migraine. But it’s also important to make double sure you’ve ruled out other eye related problems, since of course the treatment would be quite different, and you don’t want to find you have something that’s getting quickly worse without treatment.
More about ocular migraine here.