Eye migraines-- also called ophthalmic, ocular or retinal migraines-- commonly produce visual symptoms with or without a headache. Although the exact cause is not known, the website All About Vision reports that migraines may be caused by changes in blood flow to the brain's visual cortex or occipital lobe-- the areas of the brain responsible for vision. Possible triggers include hormonal changes, flashing lights, chemicals in foods or medications, stress, allergies, and dental problems.
According to the Envision Eye Center, migraines may be caused by abnormal functioning of the neurotransmitter called serotonin. This chemical enables nerve impulses to be passed from one nerve cell to the next. During a migraine attack, the serotonin causes the blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. On rare occasions this process may cause a stroke.
According to Drs. Gary Cassel, Michael Billig and Harry Randall, authors of "The Eye Book," migraine triggers include stress, caffeine, cheese, nuts, red wine, birth control pills and monosodium glutamate, which is commonly found in Chinese food.
Dr. Robert Abel, author of "The Eye Care Revolution," reports that migraines are often caused by stress, and triggers differ for each individual. According to Abel, triggers may include sweets; fruit; nuts; breads and cereals; meat; dairy; alcohol, especially red wine, which contains sulfites; estrogen replacement therapy; and oral contraceptives.
Phyllis Balch, CNC, and James Balch, M.D., authors of "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," write that migraines may also be triggered by emotional changes, constipation, liver malfunction, lack of sleep and changes in barometric pressure.
According to Abel, eye migraines can be initiated by light pulsing at just the right rate. He reports that light can enter the eye at an angle and stimulate the peripheral retina, which then discharges electrical impulses perceived as flashes of light, creating an aura. Strobe lights can stimulate the entire retina and cause seizures. Even the pulsing of fluorescent lights can make vision uncomfortable.
Headaches classified as common, classic or cluster migraines generally cause visual symptoms that are temporary and not serious. However, ocular, ophthalmic and retinal migraines are complicated migraines that can be very serious and are associated with eye problems. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, a retinal migraine is a rare condition that can cause vision loss or blindness. Cassel, Billig and Randall report that during retinal migraines, the blood vessels supplying the retina and optic nerve constrict. Diagnosis is made by ruling out other causes of pain and vision loss, such as a blood clot or detached retina.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
According to Abel, stress can cause a person to clench his teeth, causing pain in the temporomandibular joint. The pain may then radiate throughout the head, including the eyes. Inflammation, teeth abnormalities and impaired jaw movements may contribute to a TMJ disorder. Authors on the Dental Health Directory website report that TMJ is a major cause of migraine suffering because the trigeminal nerve that is responsible for jaw and tooth function also feeds sensation to the face, sinuses, palate, eyes, teeth and lips.