Migraine Symptoms: Visual Disturbances

Written by Jessica Puterbaugh | March 1, 2022

Many people with migraine experience visual disturbances. As is true with other migraine symptoms, visual disturbances vary from person to person and attack to attack. Visual disturbances can greatly impact your sensory system and cause an increase in anxiety. In addition, they can make it difficult, or even impossible, to go about normal activities.

What do visual disturbances feel like?

Vision disturbances are common and can happen with or without head pain. They can be very scary to those experiencing them, especially in cases where vision is temporarily lost. Symptoms typically happen in both eyes and can present as:

  • Blind spots
  • Zigzag lines
  • Shimmering spots or lines
  • Flashes of light
  • Blurry vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Distorted perception

Some of these visual symptoms occur as part of the aura phase of a migraine attack, and some occur during the pain phase. People may have visual disturbances in just one eye or in both eyes.

Many people with migraine also have photophobia (or photosensitivity), which is extreme and painful sensitivity to light. And though more rare, some also experience Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, a disorder characterized by distortions of visual perception:

  • Micropsia: objects appear smaller than they actually are
  • Macropsia: objects appear larger than they actually are
  • Teleopsia: objects appear further away than they actually are
  • Pelopsia: objects appear closer than they actually are
  • Metamorphopsia: objects appear with inaccurate height and width

How long do visual symptoms last?

Many visual disturbances present during the aura phase of migraine, and these changes indicate that an attack is coming on. They generally last 10-30 minutes and usually resolve within an hour, though some people have persistent visual aura that lasts longer, and for some, it can last just a few seconds or minutes. However, some of the symptoms, such as blurry vision can last throughout the entire migraine attack.
man holding his eyes in one hand and glasses in the other

How should I treat issues with my vision?

  • Discuss any vision changes with your doctor—whether they come with head pain or not. While visual disturbances are a common migraine symptom, they can also indicate other more serious conditions that are important to rule out. Your doctor may recommend you see an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam, and they may call for other testing such as an MRI, CT scan, or retinal imaging.
  • Avoid exercising or doing things outdoors during the brightest part of the day
  • Wear dark or light-filtering glasses and/or hats while outside or in spaces with bright overhead or florescent lighting
  • Minimize screen time and adjust your devices’ brightness settings
  • Use lamps with softer light bulbs instead of bright overhead lights

We want to know! Do you experience visual changes before or during a migraine attack? How would you describe yours? Do you have any tips for how to manage this unpleasant symptom?

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