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What Is a Migraine with Aura? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Have you experienced flashing lights, blind spots, and other visual disturbances lately? It may have been a migraine with aura.

In this post, we’ll look at the different types of aura migraines and their causes and risk factors. We’ll show you how you can treat them through home remedies, and what lifestyle changes may help you prevent them.

We’ll also touch on the link between aura migraines and dry eyes. Read on to find out more.

What Is Aura Migraine?

An aura migraine is typically a recurring headache that is accompanied by visual or sensory disturbances. It’s also called a classic migraine or migraine with aura.

An aura migraine may cause visual or sensory disturbances and other symptoms with only a mild or no headache at all. It differs from other types of migraines through its visual aura.

Types of Aura Migraines

Several subtypes of migraines may cause visual disturbances alongside other symptoms. Knowing the differences between them is important. Some types of aura migraines are more serious than others and may require a visit to the doctor.

  • Classic migraine – The most frequent type of migraine with aura, a classic migraine may cause blurry vision or blind spots. Headache is common but not always present.
  • Retinal migraine – If you experience visual disturbances such as flickering lights in one eye only, it may be a retinal migraine. This type of migraine may also cause momentary blindness. Retinal migraine is rare and typically affects people under 40 years of age.
  • Migraine with brainstem aura – Also known as basilar-type aura migraine, it may occur in any person who suffers from an aura migraine, though it is rare. Visual disturbances can include double vision. Other common symptoms are tinnitus, vertigo, and speech problems.
  • Hemiplegic migraine – A hemiplegic migraine may cause weakness or paralysis (hemiplegia) on one side of the body only alongside visual and sensory disturbances. It typically goes away within a few hours but in rare cases may last for days.

Aura Migraine Symptoms

The sensory disturbances that come with an aura migraine are known as an aura. Aura migraine symptoms include visual disturbances that commonly occur before the headache. Aura symptoms may appear an hour before the headache. They can be frightening, especially if you’ve never had a migraine before, because they may resemble those of a stroke.

In some cases, aura migraine occurs without head pain. According to a 2012 study, patients over 50 years of age are more likely to have an aura migraine without headache.

Aura Symptoms

An aura typically lasts less than an hour and may affect all your senses, not only your vision.

blurred city background with colored dots of light
  • Visual aura disturbances:
    • Flashing lights, also known as scintilla
    • Zigzag patterns
    • Shimmering or colored spots
    • Stars
    • Blind spots, also called scotomas
    • Temporary vision loss, which can be partial or affect one or both eyes
    • Tunnel vision
    • Other visual changes
    • Visual hallucinations
  • Slurred speech or difficulties speaking
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pins and needles in the limbs
  • Dizziness and spinning (vertigo)
  • Hearing or smelling things that are not real (auditory and olfactory hallucinations)

Migraine visual aura symptoms may fade once the headache and other migraine symptoms appear or continue alongside them.

Other Migraine Symptoms

After the aura or concomitantly with it, you may experience other symptoms such as:

  • Mild to severe headache, steady or throbbing, typically affecting one or both sides of the head
  • Sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore jaw or neck
  • Fear
  • Memory changes

Good to know: Some people experience prodrome symptoms or warning signs hours or days before the migraine aura. Prodrome symptoms can include tiredness, food cravings, constipation or diarrhea, the need to urinate more often than usual, or feeling hyperactive or in a bad mood.

Migraine with Aura Causes

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of an aura migraine. A prevalent theory explains an aura migraine as a wave of electrical or chemical activity that moves across the visual cortex of the brain.

The visual cortex processes visual signals, which explains the sensory disturbances associated with this type of migraine. The activity wave arises while the nerve cells in the brain function as normal. It doesn’t damage the brain.

Aura Migraine Triggers

Genetic factors alongside environmental ones may cause an aura migraine in some people. The specific triggers can vary from person to person. Common triggers for an aura migraine include:

  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Stress
  • Foods naturally high in glutamate, such as soy sauce, parmesan cheese, walnuts, processed meats, and tomatoes
  • Not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much
  • Oral contraceptives, certain high blood pressure medication (vasodilators), and other medication
  • Intense smells such as gasoline or perfume
  • Overtraining or overexertion
  • Hormone fluctuations caused by pregnancy or menstruation
  • Exposure to intense sunlight or another source of bright light
silhouette of a woman against a bright light

Aura Migraine Risk Factors

While aura migraine risk factors require more research, the following are often cited as common migraine factors. They may also play a role in aura migraines.

Important: Migraine with aura is associated with a higher risk of stroke. This occurs because of blood clots that form because of narrowing blood vessels. That’s why it’s important to manage aura migraine triggers as much as possible and seek help from a doctor if the symptoms reoccur.

Migraine with Aura Treatment

If you experience a severe or reoccurring aura migraine, your doctor may recommend an eye exam to rule out other causes of visual disturbances. He or she may also recommend MRI or CT scans.

Treatment for migraine with aura includes over the counter (OTC), prescription, and preventative medication. Home remedies and lifestyle changes can also help manage the condition, especially if it’s reoccurring.

  • Relief medication focuses on relieving headache and other unpleasant symptoms such as nausea. It includes OTC anti-inflammatory pain relieves such as ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as prescription drugs such as triptans, opioids, anti-nausea drugs, and nasal sprays or injections. Relief medication for aura migraine is often best taken as soon as the first signs and symptoms of the condition appear.
  • Preventive medication helps treat people who have strong, recurrent migraines. Doctors can prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, blood pressure medication, Botox injections, and antiseizure drugs.

Note: Some aura migraine medication can have unpleasant side effects or increase your risk of stroke. Take it with care and discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor.

Migraine with Aura Home Remedies

Home remedies can help you deal with the symptoms of an aura migraine. Here are some frequently recommended home remedies for this condition.

  • Avoid working on a computer or using your phone at the first signs of an aura migraine. The light emitted by the screen may increase your light sensitivity and make visual disturbances worse.
  • Place an ice pack or a cold compress on your forehead.
  • Lie down in a quiet, dark room as soon as the first symptoms appear. If it’s a bright day outside, draw the curtains.
  • Cool down the room if it’s warm.
  • Practice simple deep breathing exercises by becoming aware of your breathing and following it to relax.
  • Take a nap or, if it’s evening, try to go to sleep.

Lifestyle Changes for Aura Migraines

Preventing aura migraines is better than having to treat them. As we’ve seen, some of the triggers behind the condition are within your control.

woman doing yoga on open balcony

Consider the following lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of suffering these migraines—and all migraines in general.

  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Have a consistent sleep routine, going to bed and waking around the same hours every day.
  • Avoid processed foods and food additives.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet that contains fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
  • Take supplements including a full spectrum eye health supplement.
  • Reduce stress through yoga, mediation, and aerobic exercise.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Quit smoking if you can.
  • Pay attention to your migraine triggers. Whether they are strong light, intense smells, or particular foods, recognize them and avoid them.
  • Drink enough water every day to stay hydrated.
  • If you’re taking any medication that may increase the risk of migraines, discuss with your doctor possible replacements.
  • Take care of your eyes. Patients with migraine are more likely to have dry eyes. According to the same study, dry eye syndrome may make migraine attacks worse.

When to see a doctor: When migraines reoccur, last for more than an hour, or affect only one eye.

Takeaway

Aura migraines may come with visual disturbances that announce or accompany a headache and other symptoms.

Visual aura can cause a wide range of disturbances including flashing lights, blind spots, and temporary vision loss.

Factors like stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet may trigger a migraine, so it’s important to address them.

Also important is to address any underlying eye conditions such as dry eyes, which may make migraine attacks worse.

Do you have signs of dry eyes? Don’t ignore them. Take the dry eye test now.