Pain free or not, visual migraine hallucinations can be scary. Below are some steps showing what I do to take care of myself during an attack.
In my understanding, visual disturbances accompany most migraines.
They are often considered to be a part of the aura phase of migraine.
But sometimes the symptom occurs on its own and does not lead to a full blown attack.
Symptoms like shimmering or flickering lights, and a moving expanding field of vision are common.
I often see the carpet moving like the ocean or small orange and black dots in the air. Sometimes it’s just like looking through Vaseline or broken glass. Other symptoms also include zigzag, wavy or jagged patterns and blind spots that can be very scary when they first happen.
A visual migraine typically lasts between 10 minutes and an hour and although the symptoms can at times be frightening, they do not cause any long-term damage.
Typically no pain accompanies this type of migraine. But if you are one of the not so lucky ones that do get the pain phase following the visual hallucination, here are some of my own tips for acute self care.
These visual distortions could mean anything and nothing. You need to see your doctor and get properly diagnosed. No pun intended! If you get no pain, then it might mean you just need to ride it out and rest while the episode passes in an hour or so.
But if you get a lot of pain, you may need to consider taking medications. Of course this depends on how often you get the attacks. If it is effecting your work and lifestyle you will need to learn ways to manage it so you can continue creating a wondrous fulfilling life.
Your doctor will perform eye tests to ensure that there is nothing wrong with your eyes. Do not be concerned if there seems to be numerous tests, this will just be to rule out anything more serious.
Most visual migraine episodes last from twenty to thirty minutes and then they finish.
I recommend taking action at the very start of the subtle sensations that are your early warning signs. Please don't ignore the clues your body is sending.
So, if you are working or driving you will have to act quickly and pull over to the side of the road or stop working.
The first few attacks can be scary, but eventually you will be able to learn your own patterns and will know what to do.
The thing about visual migraines, unfortunately, is that they are repetitive. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I would rather you know this right up front so you can be prepared. The symptom(s) will reoccur again and again for years to come.
The good news is that you will get another chance to try something different and find what is most effective. And you will learn to manage this condition.
If your visual hallucinations are an indication of an impending attack, like they are for me, this would be a good time to take your medications. Taking your meds at your earliest warning signal will give you the best chance at aborting the attack.
Develop a migraine management plan with your doctor and plan ahead. For example, I'd use: sensations, take meds, tell boss, go to safe space, relax. On a simpler pain-free practical level, you just need to take action and go find somewhere to lay down or rest.
Plan ahead for some places to pull over and stop on a long haul if you have regular attacks. Have a safe place at work that you can escape to, or just go and lay down in your car.
Keep a spare hand towel or hat to help keep out the light.
To share one example, when I was studying I used to arrange with reception a quiet room. I would book a room to go a lay down in at lunch time to rest my eyes. The bright fluorescent lights were a trigger for me. But it made me feel safe and enabled me to continue studying.
One of the best things to do to just relax is to become aware of your breathing. Counting to 4 and pausing at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale will calm you down. So inhale and count to 4, pause 1 -2 and exhale count to 6 and pause for 1 – 2.
The easiest way I find is to just listen to a nice calming CD on my MP3 player. One of my favorites is Dr. Weil’s Breathing CD.
In addition to the above 5 things, I would also recommend reading ice packs for migraine relief, learning some biofeedback techniques, and having some acupuncture treatments to help you cope with repeated attacks.
Biofeedback and acupuncture are having significant results in reducing the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, and this means reducing visual migraine attacks too. Be proactive!
If your migraines are severe and chronic I would also suggest getting some extra migraine support from a local counselor.
Dealing with a chronic illness is hard, lets face it.
So, it's nice to remember that you don't have to do this all alone, support is often only a phone call away. Or an email. Or a text!