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The ocular migraine - A 'Kaleidoscope' effect


June 2013

Deborah Falkenstein was doing a little shopping when she had a frightening and somewhat "psychedelic" experience. She looked in the dressing room mirror and a third of her vision in one eye was drastically distorted. "I could see my head and my toes, but right in the middle it was as if I was looking through a kaleidoscope. I was viewing my body through tiny shards of shiny glass with irregular edges." The optical phenomenon was accompanied by pressure centered on the upper portion of her forehead. "At first I thought I might be having a seizure." She headed straight to an eyeglass store in the mall. "The optometrist told me I was having an ocular migraine and said they were fairly common. I thought, ĎThen how is it that most of us have never heard of it?í"

According to Dr. Janel Schneider, a neurologist with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group, the ocular or retinal migraine happens to one in 200 people. Itís caused by the same changes in your brain chemistry, blood vessels or nerve excitability that cause regular migraines, only itís taking place in your retina or in areas of your brain associated with eyesight.

"You may experience flashing lights, wavy lines going through your vision or actual blind spots. You might not think itís a migraine because the pain isnít as severe as a normal migraine and doesnít last as long. In fact you might not feel any pain at all," explains Schneider, who goes on to say that over-the-counter pain relief might be your best bet. "If we treated the ocular migraine with traditional migraine medication, chances are the pain would be gone before the medication kicked in."

Still, she says you should take it seriously. If you experience any new or sudden change in your vision, the safest thing to do is go to the emergency room or see a medical professional immediately to make sure itís nothing more serious.

This story ran in the June 2013 issue of: