Ocular Migraine causes and how to avoid them
One of the best ways of avoiding ocular migraines-- and all migraines, for that matter-- is to identify and avoid triggers that produce visual disturbances and the pain that sometimes accompanies them. Among all people with migraines, 85% can identify triggers. People with migraines consistently report environmental triggers of their headaches. These include changes in barometric pressure, bright sunlight, flickering lights, heat, high humidity, high altitude, air quality, and strong smells. In fact, research has validated the experience of many people with migraines, who feel that they are more sensitive than the general population to light-induced discomfort, visual distortions, noise, and odors.
Many people with ocular migraines are particularly sensitive to light. Bright sunlight and the glare it can create on the windshield of the car or a body of water can induce persistent visual disturbances. The first sensation you might notice is one of looking through a cracked window at a sunny scene, as jagged lines of light interfere with your sight. The “cracks” change shape and shift, spreading across your field of vision, lasting for up to an hour. Flashing lights, like warning beacons or those on law enforcement vehicles, can also be a trigger. So can spending many hours staring at a computer monitor.
Paying close attention to your exposure to light is an important step in preventing ocular migraines. Protecting your eyes from glare with sunglasses and a hat is a key step, as is limiting the amount of time you spend at the computer. If your job requires you to use a computer, then take frequent breaks to rest your eyes, closing them for a moment or two a few times each hour.
Cigarette smoke, perfume, or strong odors can also trigger ocular migraines. If you smoke, stop. Avoid secondhand cigarette smoke whenever possible. Also avoid certain food substances that are well documented as migraine triggers: chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), red wine, and tyramine, which is found in aged and smoked meat and cheeses. Even caffeine, which often help reduces the pain of migraines, can cause them if used to excess.
Irregular patterns of eating and sleeping also predispose you to migraines. Nearly 2/3 of people with migraines reported missing a meal can induce a headache; lack of sleep, oversleeping, and fatigue are also reported as triggers. Maintaining regular eating habits and consistent sleeping patterns reduces the likelihood that you'll experience an ocular migraine.
Eighty percent of patients report that stress is a trigger; crying often induces headache. Let down after stress, including vacations, can also bring on an ocular migrane. Managing stress effectively is important to preventing migraines, so develop a repertoire of stress relief techniques. These can include deep breathing and relaxation practices, such as yoga, awareness, and meditation. Exercise is another excellent stress relief technique; however, be sure to stay within your limits because over exertion can trigger a migraine. A good rule of thumb is that you want to be able to maintain brief conversation while exercising. If you're panting so hard that you can't speak, you're overdoing the exercise.
You may not be able to affect other environmental factors, such as changes in barometric pressure or the weather. However, being aware that these risk factors are operating is a signal to be extra vigilant about things that you can control, like your exposure to bright light, your stress and activity levels, your eating and sleeping patterns, and the types of foods you eat.
If you're not sure what triggers your migraines, consider keeping a headache diary. Use a special notebook to jot down the date of any migraines, how long they lasted, their intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, and any possible triggers. Make a note of your eating, sleeping, stress, and exercise patterns, too. Also note how you were able to obtain relief.
With an awareness of your migraine causes, and working closely with your physician, you'll be able to develop a migraine prevention plan that will limit the amount of time you miss work, school, or recreational activities due to visual disturbances or pain.