17 People Describe What Visual Auras From Migraine 'Look' Like
Though many people tend to think of migraine as “a bad headache,” the reality is that migraine is a neurological disease with many different subtypes – each of which presents differently with its own unique set of symptoms.
The type of migraine people are probably most familiar with is migraine without aura, which often causes head pain, nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and no visual disturbances. But about 25 to 30 percent of folks with migraine experience migraine with aura. An aura, sometimes known as a “warning sign,” is a series of sensory disturbances that happens before a migraine attack. Auras usually last for about 20-60 minutes. While vision disturbances are one of the most common effects, auras could also include sensory changes (e.g. feeling tingling or numbness) or speech or language problems (e.g. slurring or being unable to produce the correct words).
Visual disturbances, or visual auras, may or may not be accompanied by pain and other symptoms, but the changes in vision can be frightening to experience. Some have “positive” symptoms, meaning they see something that isn’t there, while others have “negative” symptoms, in which they temporarily lose parts of their vision. Others may experience distorted or altered vision, as if they’re looking at the world through water, heat waves or a kaleidoscope, for example.
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It’s important to note that, while migraine is a common cause of visual aura, other health conditions can cause similar visual disturbances as well. Typically, migraine-related visual auras are seen through both eyes, rather than just one, but if you’re experiencing aura, be sure to consult a doctor to discuss what might be causing your specific symptoms.
To better understand what these visual auras are really like, we asked our Mighty community to describe what the visual disturbances they experience due to migraine “look” or feel like. Let us know what your migraine auras are like in the comments below.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “When a migraine is starting for me I see what only can be described as purple fluffy caterpillars wandering across my vision and lights look like stars.” – Emily E.
2. “Once I was having lunch with a couple of coworkers and suddenly the head of one of them started to ‘melt.’ It was so frightening and bizarre… That was the first time and it happened a few times after that.” – Claudia G.
3. “Most of the time, I get a pinpoint of bright light or multiple pinpoints of light that look like fireworks. When this happens, the searing pain in my left temple can be immediate or can take up to a day to occur. Every so often, I will get a very strange vibrating zigzag cycle shape filled with all different colors. It morphs its shape as it moves from one eye’s visual field to the other… until it is completely gone. I cannot see much else through or around the vibrating zigzag cycle, and I usually have that searing left temple pain. It will take about 30 minutes for it to move and to go completely away. It looks very similar to this only with brighter colors.” – Regina K.J.
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4. “A rainbow of colors in the side of my vision, or just white and blue and it feels like stabbing in my eyes. Or the world will be through a fisheye lens and everything is distorted and watery.” – Allie R.
5. “Like a trail when something moves in front of me but also I see – I [want to] call them snakes – in my vision. Little black snake-like things that move into and out of my vision.” – Jessie H.E.
6. “First, my vision gets blurry, like looking through frosted glass. Then I get rings of flashing light around my periphery. If I don’t take mitigating action at this point, the multicolored flashing lights move to the center of my vision and look like a kaleidoscope. The pain at that point feels like red hot ice picks stabbing me in the head. I get these four to five times a week, and they can last for weeks.” – Monica Y.
7. “It looks like tunnel vision, my peripheral vision is blurred. I also get dots of just black areas.” – Allégra E.H.
8. “Typically, I get ocular migraines that are preceded by a dark spot in the middle of my line of sight. For example, if I’m reading words on a page, I won’t be able to see a word or two. Or, if I’m driving, I’ll won’t be able to see all of the letters and numbers on the license plate on [a] car in front of me. Then, as the dark spot dissipates, I see what looks like an ever-expanding kaleidoscope until it expands beyond my peripheral vision. Usually, the pain hits after my vision returns to normal. All of this happens in the span of about 20 minutes.” – Stephanie V.
9. “My auras look like TV static. They start around my peripheral vision and work their way inwards.” – Liz F.
10. “The only way I can describe my worst aura is similar to when you drag a mouse across a computer screen, and you get a little trail behind it of faint cursors. I get this with anything that moves. If a hand moves in front of my face, I see the hand and then four or five outlines of the hand trailing behind. It’s quite unnerving, but have since been told it’s called palinopsia.” – Lottie A.
11. “I didn’t get visual disturbances until I was pregnant. Then I got black and white zigzags covering the outer half of my vision. Lasted about an hour.” – Teresa F.
12. “I have vestibular migraine and when I have an episode, it really feels like I wear dirty glasses! The ‘images’ are not clear, there [are] black spots sometimes and looking at something can hurt deep inside my head because it feels like I have to really concentrate to see things clearly.” – Jessica R.
13. “Sometimes I’ll have blurred vision, or I’ll see stars – think the Christmas star come and go, or sometimes my depth perception goes flat and I may smack myself.” – Patricia E.
14. “I have two different types of visual disturbances. The first and more common is similar to when you look ahead at a road and see the heat waves coming off only much closer. The second looks like little embers flying everywhere. The first time the embers happened I was sure my house was on fire.” – Casey K.
15. “I see lights at the edge of my vision. More like fractured light. It makes my vision shimmer and if I don’t blink often, it hurts my eyes. I also get black shadowy patches in my vision when migraine hits…” – Gala G.
16. “It’s like someone is holding their hand about four inches from my face. I can see, but there are spots that are blocked and just don’t exist in my line of vision.” – Alicia R.
17. “I have classic migraine with aura, cluster headaches, abdominal migraine, and ocular migraine. I have two different visual changes. The first one is I get ‘fairy lights’ and colors get brighter. That’s always where the migraine starts. Then it turns into Alice in Wonderland syndrome. AIWS changes how I process the space around me and distorts how big or small my body is. I know damn well my limbs aren’t seven feet long but that doesn’t stop me from trying to use the coffee pot from across the room. After cluster headaches, my vision will be blurred and then I go blind. I’ve mastered how to navigate my whole neighborhood, except the stairs in my house while blind as a bat.” – Shayla F.W.
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