The Mighty Logo

Does Migraine Cause Blurred Vision? Understanding the Link

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Migraine and blurred vision walk into a bar… nope. Let’s try again.

Migraine is a complex neurological condition with no cure that is most often characterized by an intense headache — though it’s not a symptom experienced by everyone with migraine — as well as a range of other symptoms, including blurred vision and loss of vision. How does migraine aura play a part? And how can someone who experiences less-than-ideal vision cope?

What Is Migraine?

According to the American Migraine Foundation, an estimated one billion people live with migraine worldwide. In the United States, the disease affects 1 in 4 households. In addition to debilitating head pain, migraine is also characterized by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Unlike common headaches, migraine has a distinct neurological origin involving abnormal brain activity.

Causes of a Migraine

A variety of factors can trigger a migraine, and identifying them is crucial for effective symptom management.

  • Hormonal fluctuations: Especially in people assigned female at birth, changes in hormonal levels, like during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, can lead to migraine. Estrogen shifts can disrupt brain chemistry, triggering an episode.
  • Dietary triggers: Certain foods and additives, such as aged cheeses, processed foods, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and preservatives like MSG, can provoke migraine as well. Excessive caffeine or alcohol intake can also trigger a migraine.
  • Sleep patterns: Irregular sleep, both too little and too much, can contribute to migraine as well.
  • Stress and emotions: Stress and related chemical releases can be catalysts for an attack. Emotional states like anxiety, depression, or heightened excitement can also play a role.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Intense lights, loud noises, and strong odors can often spur a migraine, especially for those sensitive to sensory stimuli.
  • Weather changes: Sudden shifts in barometric pressure or extreme temperatures can stir up symptoms.
  • Physical exertion: Intense physical activity or strain can sometimes lead to migraine, particularly in high-intensity sports or activities. This is why some people with migraine prefer low-impact movement like walking or yoga.
  • Genetic influence: There’s a strong genetic component to migraine as well. If a close family member experiences it, the likelihood of developing the disease increases.

Symptoms of a Migraine

In addition to throbbing head pain, a migraine can manifest with an array of common symptoms. These may include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia), and, in some cases, visual disturbances known as auras. This is where symptoms, including blurry vision or double vision, come into play.

Blurred Vision and Migraine

Blurred vision is often associated with a phenomenon called a migraine aura. Auras are temporary disruptions in the brain’s electrical activity that can precede or occur alongside a migraine attack. They can result in visual problems like flashing lights, zigzag lines, or, in some cases, blurred vision.

This visual display arises due to changes in blood flow and altered electrical signaling within the visual cortex, a specialized brain region responsible for processing visual information. During a migraine aura, these irregularities disrupt the routine processing of visual stimuli, leading to the perception of distortions or irregularities in vision.

It’s important to note that not all migraine episodes involve auras, and not all auras include visual disturbances. Some individuals may experience sensory auras, which can involve sensations like tingling or numbness, while others may have auditory or language-related auras.

Understanding Migraine Aura

Auras are temporary neurological events that often occur before or alongside a migraine attack. Typically lasting between 20 minutes to an hour, it encompasses a range of sensory disruptions. Among these, visual auras are the most prevalent. These can include not only blurred vision but also other visual anomalies, such as sudden flashes of light or the perception of blind spots in the visual field.

During a migraine aura, specific areas of the brain experience altered electrical activity and blood flow patterns. This leads to abnormal signaling that affects how sensory information is processed, resulting in these perceptual disturbances.

The Impact of Blurred Vision on Daily Life

Migraine-induced blurred vision can significantly impact daily activities, making tasks like reading, driving, or even recognizing faces challenging. These difficulties can have a notable adverse effect on an individual’s overall quality of life, as the visual disturbances impede their ability to engage in routine activities with ease and confidence.

Diagnosing Migraine-Related Blurred Vision

If you experience a migraine alongside blurred vision, seeking prompt medical advice is crucial to avoid a potential medical emergency. Health care professionals employ a comprehensive approach to accurately diagnose and distinguish migraine from other possible causes of visual disturbances, such as multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, or infections like meningitis.

This process typically begins with a thorough review of your medical history, where specific attention is given to the frequency, duration, and characteristics of your migraine attacks, as well as any associated symptoms, such as blurred vision. Following this, a neurological examination assesses various aspects of brain function, including sensory and motor capabilities. In some cases, additional diagnostic measures, such as imaging studies like MRI or CT scans, may be ordered to rule out other underlying conditions. These tests provide a detailed view of the brain’s structure and can help confirm the diagnosis of a migraine with visual aura.

Treatment Options for Migraine and Blurred Vision

Treatment options for migraine, associated visual disturbances, or any other symptoms that occur can encompass both medical interventions and lifestyle adjustments.

Medications and Medical Therapies

Pharmaceutical treatments play a pivotal role in the management of migraine and associated visual disturbances. They serve two primary purposes: alleviating acute symptoms during an ongoing migraine attack and preventing future episodes.

  • Acute symptom relief: Pain relievers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen, can provide relief from the immediate pain and discomfort of a migraine. Triptans, a specific class of medications, target the underlying cause of migraine by constricting blood vessels and blocking pain pathways.
  • Preventative medications: For individuals with frequent or severe migraine attacks, preventative medications may be prescribed. These can include beta-blockers, which regulate blood pressure and may reduce migraine frequency, and anticonvulsants, which stabilize electrical activity in the brain. Other medications, such as CGRP inhibitors, specifically target migraine pathways.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies

In addition to medications, lifestyle adjustments can also contribute to the management of migraine. Here are a few that might help:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule: Consistency in sleep patterns is essential for people who live with migraine. Establishing a routine and ensuring an adequate amount of sleep — including good sleep hygiene — can help regulate circadian rhythms, potentially reducing the likelihood of migraine episodes.
  • Staying hydrated: Water is life! Dehydration can be a migraine trigger for some people. Maintaining proper hydration levels is crucial.
  • Stress management techniques: Incorporating stress-reducing practices, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or yoga, can help mitigate one of the most common migraine triggers.

Managing Blurred Vision During a Migraine

Experiencing blurred vision during a migraine can be disorienting and distressing. However, there are several strategies that individuals can employ to cope better.

  • Create a safe environment: Move to a quiet, dimly lit room. This reduces sensory stimuli that may exacerbate the blurred vision and helps create a more comfortable setting.
  • Rest and relaxation: Find a comfortable position, such as lying down with a cool compress over your eyes. Taking deep, slow breaths can help relax the body and may alleviate some discomfort associated with blurred vision.
  • Wait for the aura to subside: Migraine auras, including blurred vision, are typically temporary and will gradually dissipate (but we know that waiting can sometimes be the hardest part). It’s easier said than done, but panicking may worsen the symptoms. Staying cool, calm, and collected is your best state of being.
  • Avoid strenuous activities: Refrain from engaging in activities that require precise vision, such as driving or operating machinery, until the visual disturbances have resolved. Safety first!
  • Stay hydrated: Sipping water can help ensure that dehydration, which can exacerbate migraine symptoms, is not a contributing factor to blurred vision.
  • Utilize assistive devices: If necessary, consider using aids like magnifying glasses or specialized computer software that can help compensate for blurred vision during the migraine episode.
  • Communicate with others: Inform someone you trust about your condition, especially if you are alone. They can provide support and assistance if needed.
  • Consult a health care provider: If the blurred vision persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, seek prompt medical attention.

Remember, each individual’s experience with migraine-related blurred vision may differ, and not all of these strategies may be effective for everyone.

Getty image by John M Lund Photography Inc

Originally published: November 8, 2023
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home