bizarre visual phenomenon: optical migraine

About a week or so ago I had a brief but very strange phenomenon with my vision. I had forgotten about it until it happened again. This time it lasted, I think, about fifteen minutes. When it happened, at first, I wondered how I had not noticed it before and wondered whether it had been there all the time and I was just noticing it.

As I finished some chores, I sat down at the table with my laptop. That’s when it became very apparent. In an arc wrapping around the left edge of my field of vision I could see prisms of flickering colored lights. It looked like the lights and colors were moving randomly so that it was impossible to focus on any part of the vision. Smaller at first, it seemed to lengthen to an arc extending from about a clock’s 11-o’clock to 6-o’clock positions. It made me feel a bit dizzy. The first time it happened, I don’t think I paid it much attention because it went away quickly; in fact, I remember wondering whether it happened at all and figured it was something in my eye.

When it happened again, I could focus on the fact that it was not my imagination. I couldn’t detect anything in or near my eye that would cause this to happen. I closed my eyes separately and noted I could see it regardless as well as with both eyes closed. It was at this point that I started to feel a little alarmed, though I kept telling myself it was some odd harmless phenomenon that would go away soon enough or was maybe some kind of reaction to one of my cancer drugs. I went online to see what I could find, and just about then Marvin asked me if I was ready to go do an errand. He asked me what was going on, and I told him. He suggested I call my oncologist, but I said I didn’t think I should bother unless it continued and seemed like a problem–even though it was definitely disturbing. So he called.

As usual, Toni called me back quickly. When I told her what had happened, she knew immediately what it was. Yeah, that’s why she is so terrific–she’s like a walking encyclopedia of medical knowledge. It’s commonly referred to as visual or ocular or optical or ophthalmic migraine. This phenomenon comes solo: without the typical sickening pain of a migraine headache, which I have had since I was a teenager until I started chemo in 2004 and went into auto menopause. Some articles note that people who experience optical migraines also tend to experience migraines with classic optical symptoms (flashes of light, light sensitivity, peripheral blind spots) that precede a classical migraine. Most of the migraines I have had fell into that category.

The cause of an ophthalmic migraine is, however, the same as for a migraine headache: a spasm in the blood vessels in the head. I have read that the spasms are in either the blood vessels behind the eye or the area of the brain that controls vision. It is not clear to me, yet, whether one or the other explanation is incorrect or both are correct. I will write an update when I find out.

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© 2004-2010 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

14 responses to “bizarre visual phenomenon: optical migraine

  1. THANK YOU! I have had these for years, and had not ever taken the time to research what caused them!

  2. Happy to finally hear of someone else who gets these episodes! Mine have not been occurring for a few years until just a few minutes ago……tomorrow, I go for chemo treatment #3. Therefore, it came as a shock to me that this was happening again. I am a bit relieved after reading your story! Thank you and be well! 🙂

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  4. I’ve had this twice now, but it’s colorless. The first time I kind of freaked out, but found the migraine answer online and felt less like I was having a stroke or something! Did you find anything else out about it? This time I took a maxalt and it went away pretty quickly.

  5. I have just Googled this vision issue I had with my eye. The episode as explained by so many only occurred for about 5-10 mins. Concern as i am a 42 year old woman and I have been experiencing some signs of menopause. I have a high stress job and 4 children thought that might be stress then thought stroke. Always think the worst when you don’t I right? Well I have had migraines on and off since I was a teenager. I am going to attend my FD soon to have full check up. This is one to note for sure. i just now started to feel pain in the right side of the base of my skull. Not sure if this is just me worrying or if this is also an aftermath of the vision.

  6. I was just having an episode in which my vision became obstructed by this prism effect. It was as someone else stated – in an arc from about (if thinking of a clock) from about 6 o’clock to 11 o’clock shaped. So glad to read other’s experiences – I first thought “Am I having a stroke?” – felt dizzy and heart racing but could totally have been from the fearful reaction. I have a history of migraine headaches but have never heard of the migraine of the eye without the usual associated pain. Scary – but now I feel fine.

  7. Donna,
    I have had the same symptoms. I also had chemo during 2014 until April 2015. I told my oncologist about it but they had not heard of it before and made no issue of it. I had a very bad episode recently in a store and it scared me. I asked my pcp about it, she told me it could be a neurological problem and suggested I go back to the eye doctor and make sure there is nothing optical, and said we can do some checking into it if it happens again. I will call my oncologist. I am concerned about stoke and neurological issues. I never had migraine headaches, or unusual headaches. I believe it is related to the chemo. I’d love to hear more if what you find out.

  8. Had similar episode at work today. My second one while I was working. History of migraine. I’ve had a dull headache for about 2 days and then at the end of the work day this jaggety arch started out small closer to the center of my vision. Thought it was my BP so I took half of a Beta Blocker and relaxed for about 10 min. The jaggety arch then pushed off slowly into my perifreal vision and the it was gone in 20 min. The headache is still there. Kinda freaky. Good to know it isn’t something more serious.

  9. I’m experiencing an episode now, as I’m writing this. I’ve never had a migraine before, however my Mom used to suffer with them.

  10. hey, I’ve never spoken about this as I always couldn’t put it to words, or begin to describe the things I’d see every night and throughout the days…I didn’t sleep a night until I was 12years old. Every night it felt like I couldn’t switch my mind off, or make it stop. I’d close my eyes and see more than I could ever explain or describe. More than with my eyes open. More than just this world. Now I’m 28 and it being a daily/nightly part of myself I guess I’ve lived with forever. I close my eyes and see everything. Every colour there ever was or could possibly be, all rapidly vibrating in microscopic geometric prisms, in every sense and dimension. From every perspective and magnified to the point of seeing in overwhelming detail every particle of air inside and out. Every particle consists of a kaleidoscopic hive of geometric prisms with how I can only explain as every single possible colour beyond any spectrum imaginable disected into microscopic portions, broken down to fragments of raw light, as if the origin of light itself, to a point moving like cogs and a giant multi dimensional sphere of endless breathtaking clockwork mechanisms made up of all of the above in every shape, colour, dimension, angle, movement (extremely fast and terrifyingly slow motion at the same time?) to the point of zooming into a fragment spec of a zillionth of what any of this is and seeing thousands of numbers, again in a multi perspective, dimensional and complete weightless sense. A void of absolutely everything and so much more, though somehow it makes sense. Like dissecting layers to the point of these insane numbers, with the numbers are shapes or Unknown (to me) letters/numbers than I’ve never seen before. This part is pretty…to describe it is super unjust…it’s like you’re inside a computer screen? But way deeper than that…way way deeper and higher, total disconnection from the body, I can see behind my eyeballs and the curvature of their lenses. It’s terrifying and beautiful. When consciousness somehow tugs, whenever it decides to, it’s like a melodic optic wormhole rapid zoom out/travel backwards from all you’ve delved into. Every layer, colour, shape and all there ever was or could be. Like a bungee cord retracts and pulls you back out, with your eyes and sight facing foward, like you’re being sucked out and are watching ahead(if senses and directional matter exist) like when you ride a train that’s traveling the opposite direction but you’re sat facing the ‘wrong way’ like you’re traveling light years and seeing every last drop of detail. Sometimes it stops and sort of suspends you in a void of whatever place you’re suspended in. You get a feeling that you (you’re body or eyes or self or whatever it/you is) completely stop, still. A feeling of floating in a void. Totally weightless directionless and motionless yet the cogs and geometric shapes slowly keep moving, in extreme slow and gentle motion. Then they start to morph and form faces/objects/landscapes/scenes/ting molecules of everything that could ever be or ever was. It’s like a deep understanding or breakdown of every realm and everything in it and beyond. Faces of unknown people/creatures/other worldly ‘things’ moving, expressions change. It’s slow or rapid. Sometimes so fast you feel like you’re dying…I can only put to those words, not that I’d know death. Often with that voices enter. Noises. Sounds. They are both excruciatingly deafening and unnervingly silent at the same time. So loud you can’t escape it yet you can’t even hear it?! Voices of senseless noise. Not a language because there’s no sound but it’s all you can hear. The noises aren’t human or from matter. Those I can’t explain. Through all of this my eyes are wide open but feel closed, I only realise or am conscious when a feel a huge thud to the heart, like someone punches you with huge force or like an adrenalin shot to the heart. You remember to breathe and that breathing is a ‘thing’ everything disperses but is still there now appearing as tiny dots. Coloured ones and ones of pure light. All above and around. It’s exhausting and feels like you’ve being venturing for lifetimes. Amidst these visuals I always had this other strange occurrence, every single night the room around me would get rapidly terrifyingly huge and giant, and then the extreme opposite. Ting and microscopic. Far away and so distorted. A perception kinda thing. It would do this so uncontrollably you fear it won’t stop. It keeps you in the big, close, giant room for time and then spits the room round to the far away tiny microscopic suffercating sensation. From slow and long to violently fast and rapid. I remember the worst times was always when it would switch between the two in milliseconds. My heart felt like it was exploding. That’s when I’d run from my bed and to my old dog and dad, not knowing how or what to describe so I’d say I was having a bad dream. I’d curl up, cover my ears and head and try to shake it out of me. It never would. Nothing made it go, it just stopped whenever it did. There was a texture thing too. A big ball that was sickeningly smooth and of vile perfection and it would rapidly morph into the roughest most hideously sickeningly violent texture. Again switching. I could feel and taste it. Hear it. So loud and so quiet. Every sense feeling every sensation of absolute nothingness and the nothingness of every possible thing…but all in my head. Or eyes. Or around me. It was everywhere and nowhere never and forever. There was no escape and I never ever spoke to another being about it. Until writing this.
    I didn’t sleep until I was 12yeats old because this happened to me every single night. I wasn’t scared of the dark because these things would be all around me( the colours and stuff aside from the room perspective stuff) I would walk around in it. I so vividly remember and can still see now, I’d walk around in the pitch black house at night, but I wasn’t seeing the house or wherever I was, I started walking in what I could see. Following and exploring in it. I was never afraid of the dark because I’d be safe in the colours and tunnels. I guess I started playing with/in them because if I tried to fight it, the room thing would happen and that was the dark place for me. The illusion of ‘this’ world. It started happening to me in the day times, at school, if ever my mind wandered, which was most of the time. My parents thought I was just a sleepwalker and had terrible sleep problems and blamed sugar or my hyperactive mind. I was always so aware and in control when I played in the dimensions and realms with the colours. I trusted them and used to call ‘them’ my friends. I let them guide me, I just wandered inside them. Super aware of it. It became my playtime. I don’t remember them stopping but apparently at 12 I slept my first night sleep. So I rarely get the room perspective thing now, sometimes I do but it doesn’t scare me necessarily. However I see everything else. All the time. I can focus it and ‘try’ to see more. It keeps me awake every night. If I close my eyes it’s all I see. It never stops. It never ‘goes away’ it’s always all around me. I feel it forever. It’s exhausting and until now I kinda figured it’s just what’s behind everyone’s darkness and closed eyes…I guess not.
    The strangest part for me is reading about it, which I just did right now for the first time ever in my life as I’m back at my parents house and something mush have triggered my mind into awareness of it and also curiosity of that strange thing that used to keep me awake relentlessly as a kid, so I’ve never ever had a headache in my life. Nothing. Ever. No migraine. Not even a headache…if anyone has any…thing?? That could help me understand what this thing is that happenes, or is a part of me, I’m down to hear it. It’s all I see. I can’t stop it, I can sometimes control how deep to go with it, but it’s not me. Or you. Or anything we know
    Thanks for reading

  11. You folks have given me considerable relief! I just experienced the prism/kaleidoscopic effect peripherally in both eyes, while in a grocery store. I’ve always been averse to fluorescent lighting, but this was a first. Very scary, but you good oeople have alleviated my fears. Thank you!

  12. You folks have given me considerable relief! I just experienced the prism/kaleidoscopic effect peripherally in both eyes, while in a grocery store. I’ve always been averse to fluorescent lighting, but this was a first. Very scary, but you good people have alleviated my fears. Thank you!

  13. This just happened to me I thought I was have a stroke

  14. I have a weird spiralling black and white blur in my vision, it’s moving all over the place, i can barely focus. It seems to be in my left eye, it’s been going on for the last 30 minutes, very strange….i feel fine apart from this weird vision

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