How to relieve an ocular migraine?

what you need to know

If you suffer from ocular migraines or chronic migraines, give our office a call today at (425) 686-4498 to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help.

Natural relief from Headaches

How to relieve an ocular migraine?

What is an ocular migraine? Migraine is a common, chronic, intermittently disabling neurovascular disorder. Migraines are thought to have the greatest prevalence between 35 and 45 years of age. The International Headache Society has classified migraine with six subtypes, including ocular migraines.

Ocular migraines (may also be referred to as retinal migraines) may present as a variety of visual disturbances including visual loss, blind spots, zig-zag lines, or seeing stars. Often they are not associated with head pain or headaches like the other types of migraines and typically affect only one eye.

Causes of ocular migraine

While the cause of ocular migraine is still not well understood. In general, the visual disturbances and aura that come with migraines is considered to be a result of abnormal electrical activity involving certain regions of the cortex of the brain. This abnormal activity spreads across the cortex at a slow rate and this spread is responsible for the visual disturbance and length that the visual aura will last. It is thought that ocular or retinal migraine may be due to the same type of disturbance except occurring at the back of the eye in the retina, or it may be due to a reduction in blood flow to the retina.

Like other types of migraine, harsh lights and electronic screens can be triggers. Other triggers could be: straining your eyes by staring at a screen for long periods of time, fluorescent lighting, driving long distances, stress, conditions that may lead to blood flow changes (hypertension for example), and other taxing visual activities can increase your risk for attacks. Do not that any new headache, or a headache that is much worse than usual, you should seek immediate medical attention or call 911.

Standard treatments:

Standard treatment approach to migraines include initial evaluation by your doctor and possible subsequent referral to neurologist. Typically, first line treatment strategy is avoidance of recognized or known triggers, prompt treatment of acute attacks, and preventive anti-migraine therapy. If a person does not know their triggers using  “migraine diary” can be beneficial which includes documenting anything that may be associated when you have migraine attacks such as change in weather, stress, menstruation, and diet. Commonly, patients are prescribed certain pharmaceutical drugs to help decrease pain or provide emergency migraine medications. Common drugs are in the triptan family like sumatriptan. However, they may come with side effects including: tingling; flushing; and sensations of warmth, heaviness, pressure, or tightness in different parts of the body including the chest and neck.

Can acupuncture help?

Acupuncture and naturopathic medicine can provide relief and long-term benefit for those suffering from chronic migraines and even ocular migraines. One of the main actions of acupuncture is increasing blood flow, which is typically a factor in migraines and ocular migraines. Acupuncture can also help to decrease pain and inflammation, as well as help re-set the nervous system to promote healing. In addition to acupuncture, exploring other triggers and addressing the root cause of why the migraines occur is the key for long-term relief. Common areas that are explored are stress management, looking at food allergies and diet, regulating hormones, helping with musculoskeletal tension and pain, and reducing toxins and nutrient deficiency that may be contributing to the migraine attacks.

Read our previous post on Top 2 Secrets for Migraine Prevention here.

What do the studies say?

There are numerous studies showing just how acupuncture works and how it can help migraines. There are new studies using Positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans which have demonstrated how acupuncture modulates brain structures and functioning. Also, acupuncture affects the mechanisms of pain by its vasodilatory effect on the radial artery diameter aka increasing blood flow. In addition to affecting cell signaling and afferent sensory input and the activity of norepinephrine, angiotensin II, serotonin, enkephalin, beta-endorphin, and glutamate. 

In some studies, acupuncture has been found to be more effective than both control treatment and preventive migraine pharmaceuticals in the treatment of chronic migraines. 

There are also numerous studies looking at how acupuncture can help to improve ocular blood flow. One study in particular looked at whether acupuncture could help increase OBF in patients with open-angle glaucoma. They measured blood flow parameters before and after treatment using Heidelberg retina flowmeter to measure para papillary retinal blood flow and measured retinal vessel diameter by a dynamic vessel analyzer. The pulsatile ocular blood flow, ocular pulse amplitude, and IOP were investigated by the Langham OBF system and well as measuring systemic blood pressure. The study showed that ocular blood flow increased significantly in the groups receiving eye-specific acupuncture treatments. 

If you suffer from an ocular migraine or chronic migraines, give our office a call today at (425) 686-4498 to schedule your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help.

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA at her practice Starting Point Acupuncture. She specializes in chronic and complex cases and commonly treats neuropathy, fibromyalgia, migraines, autoimmune, and infertility cases. Dr. Ellie Heintze is also the author of the book, A Starting Point Guide to Going Gluten-Free  and Keep Calm and Zen Out available on Amazon.


Acupuncture and OBF:

Payant MJ. A single case study: treating migraine headache with acupuncture, chinese herbs, and diet. Glob Adv Health Med. 2014 Jan;3(1):71-4. doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2013.060. PMID: 24753996; PMCID: PMC3921614.

Call or Schedule Now! (425) 686-4498

Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Dr. Heintze Acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor

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