What Is a Retinal Migraine?


A retinal migraine is a rare form of migraine that involves visual disturbances or blindness in one eye. Although these visual symptoms are usually temporary, permanent vision loss is a potential complication of this type of migraine, so emergency attention is required.


The main symptom of a retinal migraine is visual disturbances limited to just one eye. Some individuals experience partial vision loss symptoms, such as blurry or dim vision or twinkling lights. Others see a pattern of black spots that grow in size, eventually causing complete loss of vision.

These visual symptoms typically last an hour or less. They may occur before or during a migraine headache. The headache is often a throbbing headache limited to the same side of the head as the affected eye. Nausea and vomiting are also common. The headache can last from hours to days.

As the one-sided visual disturbances of a retinal migraine are also associated with other serious medical conditions and because permanent vision loss is possible, individuals who experience symptoms of a retinal migraine should seek immediate medical attention.


Retinal migraines occur when the blood vessels leading to one eye narrow, reducing the blood flow to the eye. The exact cause of the constriction of the blood vessels is not known, but it may be related to changes in nerve cells spreading across the retina (the part of the eye that senses light).

Like other migraines, retinal migraine attacks have various triggers, including the following:

  • Stress
  • Hormone levels
  • Exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood sugar
  • High altitudes
  • Excessive heat

Risk factors

Although retinal migraines can occur at any age, they often begin during the teenage years and peak between the ages of 30 and 40. A personal or family history of migraine headaches increases the risk of retinal migraines. They are also more common in females than males.

Other health conditions that affect the blood vessels and eyes increase the risk of developing retinal migraines. Associated conditions include the following:

  • Lupus
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Giant cell arteritis