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I can see half your aura.
December 10, 2010 1:40 PM   Subscribe

YANMD. Yesterday I saw a flash in my left eye, and then saw a semi-circular line of sparkly white flashes for about 20 minutes, which went away suddenly. I went to the doctor, who had no clue what was going on. Another one of these things appeared - right eye, tiny spot right in the center of my vision, that has turned into another semi-circle as I've been typing this. What is going on?

Again, YANMD, but my 'doctor' is a series of people at a university health services clinic who tend to be, in my experience, way off the mark in diagnosing anything but the basics or athletic conditions. When this happened yesterday I called the triage nurse who sounded worried and said to come in, but the NP who saw me satisfied herself that I hadn't had a stroke and prescribed me Imitrex for migraines. I haven't had a migraine since 2003 (due, then, to triphasic BC pills), and I didn't end up with a migraine yesterday (but now I have this unnecessary prescription, yay). Just now, this has happened again. I have no faith that the doctors will do anything more than shrug their shoulders at me, nor is the clinic open now until Monday.

Potential factors: I'm a grad student at the end of a term, in the middle of writing my final of three papers, so I've been staring at a computer screen for many hours per day for the past... oh... well, ages, but that can't be good for my vision. I have been sleeping, though - a lot, actually, 9-10 hours a night. I wear contacts for very poor eyesight - nearsightedness and astigmatism. I have problems with dry eye, but nothing chronic (yet?). I'm also 30, so not quite as springy a chicken as I used to be, and I've had poor eyesight since I was about 8. Nothing's happened to my eyes - no trauma, nothing stuck in them, no infections, etc - other than this, all appears normal, but there's a definite disco ball in my right eye at the moment.

I'm not looking for a diagnosis, and I'm honestly scared to read what might come up in the comments. But what I am looking for is some indication of, if I need to return to the doctor, what to ask them to look for. Also, could this just be eye strain? If so, should I whip my last paper out as fast as possible and spend a few days resting my eyeballs?

Thanks, hive. I hope you don't scare me too badly, but... better to know than not? Unngh. Yeah, not happy. Very nervous.
posted by AthenaPolias to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is what migraine sufferers call an aura.
posted by TheBones at 1:43 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sounds to me like an occular migraine. Start that little video at the top of the page and see how it compares.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am certainly not a doctor, but I get the migraine aura without headache, and mine are usually triggered by stress.
posted by something something at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Migraine aura, for sure.
posted by torisaur at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2010


Eye problems (existing or otherwise) can be triggered by stress and strain. I have a slight nystagmus that goes bonkers when I'm overworked and tired.

You should see a doctor about this for sure, probably a neuroophlalmologist. I can recommend a fantastic one if you're in/near Chicago.
posted by phunniemee at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2010


Yep, sounds like scintillating scotoma, a.k.a. ocular migraine. Although you don't have to be a traditional headache-type migraine sufferer to experience these. I've had it happen three times, but I've never had migraine headaches.

Previously on AskMe: 1, 2.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2010


Flaxseed oil capsules helped my dry eyes.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:58 PM on December 10, 2010


Yep, I'm about your age and don't really have migraines much anymore, but sometimes get migraine aura anyway. It looks exactly like your description.
posted by heatvision at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2010


This happened to me, triggered by stress near the end of a semester of law school. Sounds like you are in about the same situation:

"I'm a grad student at the end of a term, in the middle of writing my final of three papers."

The auras went away after the semester ended. They came back once or twice, usually in other stressful situations. I never get stress headaches so I think this is just the other way that stress appears in our physiology.
posted by Aethelwer at 2:01 PM on December 10, 2010


IANAND(Y), but having spent the last week poking people's eyeballs in the ophthalmology clinic, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a professional take a look at the back of your eyes (dilated eye exam, is what it's called). As I'm sure the Internet's told you already, flashing lights can be a sign of a retinal tear/detachment. It's rather uncommon to have it in two eyes at the same time, so I wouldn't be too worried, especially if you haven't had any other changes in your vision, but I think it would be good to err on the safe side and an ophthalmologist check them out.
posted by greatgefilte at 2:02 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd get my eyes looked at if I was you, just to be sure, but I get the exact same things. Occular migraine.
posted by Blake at 2:10 PM on December 10, 2010


Also, get a new Dr this seems really basic!
posted by Blake at 2:10 PM on December 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


A note - my sister has occular migraines, usually with no headache, and her doctor took her off hormonal birth control because of increased stroke risk. Maybe after the end of the semester you can see a doctor you trust more.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:13 PM on December 10, 2010


Going to chime in with the general consensus - get someone to have a look in your eyes (it's so unscary that we do it to each other in medical school; the only thing is that if you get your pupils dilated you may have fuzzy vision and shouldn't drive until it clears), but the most likely thing is an aura that doesn't progress to migraine.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:23 PM on December 10, 2010


Yup. I've detached a retina and have migraine with aura, and even my eye docs say the manifestations can be hard to tell apart. You should hook up with an ophthalmologist and get a peek at your retinas just to be sure. I'd hang onto the Imitrex; it works for migraine with aura too, at least for me.

If this keeps up, a neurologist visit might be a good idea. The state of the art for migraines these days is pretty good.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sounds so damn familiar--just this morning I had to take a break from reading til the disco ball thing went away. I'm extremely nearsighted, and I get this effect a few times a year. I panicked the first time, thinking STROKE!!!! But it turned out to be quite harmless. Sometimes it's ocular migraine, with or without a headache. A couple of incidents have been vitreous detachment, where a bit of the gel inside the eye pulls away from the retina, leaving me with floaters--annoying, but harmless.

So most of the time when this happens, it's no big deal. Unfortunately, the symptoms can be very similar to retinal detachment, which is very serious but treatable if attended to quickly. So don't panic, but definitely DO get a dilated eye exam soon to rule out the scary stuff.
posted by Corvid at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


+1 to Squeak Attack -- I have migraine with aura and ended up with an IUD because of the increased stroke risk.

Hopefully it's ocular migraine and not a nasty retinal issue. Feel better soon.
posted by kataclysm at 2:42 PM on December 10, 2010


Definitely sounds like the auras I have before a migraine. Starts as a blind spot in the middle of my vision, like an afterimage from staring at a lightbulb. Then it grows to a glowing semicircle that almost looks like a crystalline lattice. Nearly impossible to describe but it reminds me of the candy structures made by Doozers in Fraggle Rock.
posted by rouftop at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2010


If it's an ocular migraine, I've found drinking two cups of strong coffee and taking a painkiller of your choice at the same time circumvents any additional symptoms such as nausea and pain. Rest in the dark for about 15 mins and you should be fine. Good idea to see an ophthalmologist with a dilation just to be sure. BTW hormones play a huge part in migraines, of which there are many kinds. Given your age and (I think you are a female) gender, it doesn't sound serious..so don't freak out, I've had many of them!
posted by ~Sushma~ at 3:04 PM on December 10, 2010


Oh, wow - thank you, everyone! I could easily mark every answer in this post as best answer - Bernt Pancreas, I noted yours particularly because that video was what clinched it for me. Mine aren't lines, but more crystalline- otherwise, same thing precisely. And the doctor I saw yesterday absolutely failed to tell me that aura can happen without what I've known as a migraine - blinding pain, vomiting, etc - occurring afterward, which is why I discounted her diagnosis. I'm presuming retinal detachment isn't what's going on in my case because this has now happened independently in both eyes, but I will definitely go in on Monday to have opthamology check me out, just to be safe.

phunniemee, I'm not near Chicago, otherwise I would take you up on that offer.
DevilsAdvocate, thanks for the earlier posts - I didn't know what to search for (spots + eyes didn't turn this up and I was at a loss otherwise)!

Tack another odd stress-related problem on to grad school. And now I doubly can't wait to have this paper finished!

Thank you again, everyone. I feel infinitely better - except, you know, for the ocular migraine, but even this is a great relief against the whole brain tumor/going blind/stroke/horrific thoughts going through my otherwise sparkly head.
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:26 PM on December 10, 2010


Sounds like Ocular Migraines. I started getting them when I was 30. I get them periodically and they are usually come in waves over a few days for no reason. I had MRI's, neurologist and eye specialist of all kinds take a look at my head and eyes...and they couldn't tell me anything about why I was getting them.

They said I was fine and I haven't had any problems so far at 40 yrs. I just try to relax and enjoy the fireworks when they occur.

Ps. The name for the kaleidoscope phenomena I believe you are witnessing is called Scintillating scotoma
posted by MiggySawdust at 3:28 PM on December 10, 2010


Just one more voice to suggest that, just to be safe, you should follow up with an eye doctor before chalking this up to an ocular migraine.
posted by davejay at 4:23 PM on December 10, 2010


It does sound like an ocular migraine. I got them occasionally during my first few years of graduate school, just like you.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2010


Miggy Sawdust - yep, that's it! Man - health services will have a field day on Monday when I come in with named conditions as options.

Also, if anyone's curious, this last sparkler lasted about 20 minutes, like yesterday's, and I had a decent but not debilitating headache for about two hours after, but now everything seems totally fine. Sadly, I have to keep working, but I've altered Word to show me a green screen, not unlike AskMe, and hopefully that helps until I can finish up and properly rest my head.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:15 PM on December 10, 2010


Nthing the suggestion to please have your eyes checked by an opthamologist. You really want a qualified eye physician to verify that it's an ocular migraine and not something else.
posted by camyram at 5:20 PM on December 10, 2010


I'm presuming retinal detachment isn't what's going on in my case because this has now happened independently in both eyes, but I will definitely go in on Monday to have opthamology check me out, just to be safe.

If it was me I would not be too worried about it since it went away after 20 minutes (and for all I know I'd regret that), but since you are planning to get checked for it on Monday you (or future readers) might like to know this:

A retinal detachment is an urgent problem that requires medical attention within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

So, if you think it's a possibility it's time to call around and find an eye surgeon whose answering service can get ahold of them.
posted by yohko at 10:53 PM on December 10, 2010


Agreeing with everyone who mentioned ocular migraine. I have ocular migraines, and they sound pretty much EXACTLY like what you described. Always best to have your eyes checked, just to be sure. Some things that help me in the event of one of these episodes is to dim the lights and stay away from the computer screen. Also, I get a follow up headache after each of my ocular migraines, and sipping water or tea and taking some pain relievers usually does the trick.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 10:54 PM on December 10, 2010


I've altered Word to show me a green screen, not unlike AskMe, and hopefully that helps until I can finish up and properly rest my head.

Remember this the next time some one asks for a"professional white background". A whole lot of light hurts my eyes and staring at a white screen would be deleterious.
posted by Cranberry at 11:34 PM on December 10, 2010


Just a quick addition to consider... drinking too much coffee causes auras for me.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:03 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ocular migraine. I have them, as does my dad. I have no pain with them, but they will occasionally cause me to feel a bit sick to my stomach. My dad has no pain either, but sees a sparkly cloud and occasionally gets double vision.

I usually first notice a spot in my field of vision that seems not quite right (often when I'm reading, since I read a lot in my work). It slowly begins to expand in a horseshoe-shaped sparkly line and eventually passes out of my field of vision. The whole thing may last 30 minutes. Sometimes I'll have a couple of them a day, but I can go a year without them.

There's a good representation of what I experience here. Good luck.
posted by northernlightgardener at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2010


I usually first notice a spot in my field of vision that seems not quite right (often when I'm reading, since I read a lot in my work). It slowly begins to expand in a horseshoe-shaped sparkly line and eventually passes out of my field of vision. The whole thing may last 30 minutes.

This is my experience exactly.

One point to keep in mind if it happens again - DO NOT DRIVE until all the symptoms have passed. You can have blind spots in your vision that you are completely unaware of during an ocular migraine.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:12 PM on December 12, 2010


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