Have you ever experienced an ocular migraine?
The first time can be frightening if you’re not familiar with the distressing symptoms. Migraines aren’t just severe, head pounding headaches but can involve all your senses ( sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch with ensuing nausea and vomiting). Ocular migraines cause visual disturbance such as:
- Short-lived vision loss
- Blind spots
- Zig zag lines, and
- Pulsing white auras
Migraines can be quite debilitating, bringing your life to a halt. Several years ago, I experienced an ocular migraine and was terrified as a white aura spread across my eyes, claiming my vision. I thought I was going blind, but it lasted only a few minutes, followed by an excruciating headache and nausea. I was relieved it was nothing more severe after visiting my doctor and learning it was an ocular migraine. Since the first episode, I’ve only had two or three minor occurrences. Usually, zig-zag lines appear warning me of an advancing migraine. I’ve learned the trigger points and take action to lessen a full-blown attack.
The trigger for my first ocular migraine was dehydration from grueling miles of marathon training. Other episodes came on after hours of sitting in front of the laptop. Knowing the triggers, I can thwart an attack before it’s full-blown by drinking water consistently throughout the day to hydrate. And when I’m working on a novel, take intermittent breaks from the computer screen. I’ve always preferred natural cures to over-the counter medication and incorporate herbal remedies and yoga as preventative measures.
Ocular Migraine Triggers
Common triggers for migraines are:
- Sensory Stimuli: Activity that strains your eyes for long period, lengthy exposure to harsh or fluorescent lighting, staring at a computer screen for long session, driving long distances, loud sounds, strong smells, and second-hand smoke
- Sleep disturbances
- Food and food additives
- Low Blood Sugar
- Excessive Heat
If you’ve ever experienced visual disturbances with a migraine, please seek the advice of qualified medical professionals. A doctor can diagnose your symptoms, eliminate other medical causes, and prescribe appropriate medicine or therapy. Below are medications commonly prescribed.
- Ditans (very specific serotonin boosters)
- Ergotamines (vasoconstrictors)
- Gepants (calcitonin gene-related peptide blockers)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) (Aspirin, Ibuprofen)
- Triptans (serotonin boosters)
- Antiseizure medications
If you are opposed to prescription and over-the-counter medication as I am, many natural alternatives are available. These herbs and spices have been used for centuries by many cultures to treat illnesses, pain, and various maladies. Each contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties to reduce pain and inflammation. My favorites are ginger, cinnamon, cloves, basil, and turmeric. Essential oils, such as peppermint and lavender, are also good alternatives to alleviate pain. Many of the roots and herbs below can be used as a tea, liquid tinctures, or topical ointments).
The most common willow bark used medicinally comes from the branches of two to three-year-old white and black willow trees, and have been used for centuries as a pain reliever. During Hippocrates’ time, people chewed on the white willow bark to relieve pain and fever. Salicin, the compound in willow bark, is an alternative to aspirin and works the same way by reducing inflammation and pain as it enters the bloodstream. You can purchase it whole, powdered, or liquid (distilled tincture) in most health food stores. It can be ingested as a tea or used topically on the skin as a paste applied to the point of pain.
- Anti-inflammatory properties (Reduces inflammation, and prevents free radicals, and risk of cancer)
- Antioxidants (Protects against bacteria and viruses)
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum) originates from the inner tree bark and is a member of the Laurel family Lauraceae. Oils in the bark contribute to the spice’s familiar aromatic flavor. It’s a miracle spice with many health benefits and an effective migraine remedy.
- Antioxidants (Protects against free radicals, bacteria and viruses)
- Anti-inflammatory properties (Reduces inflammation, helps fight infection and repair tissue damage)
- Antiplatelet aggregation (Improves blood circulation)
Cinnamon can be used in several forms extract, liquor, tea, or herb. It can be applied as a paste directly to the forehead to relieve pain. Grind a few cinnamon sticks into a powder, and add some water to make a thick paste. Apply it on your forehead and temples, rest for 30 minutes, then wash it off with lukewarm water.
Cloves originate from an evergreen tree called the clove tree or Syzygium Aromaticum. Known for its pungent flavor, and aroma it’s a spice used in may savory dishes, and drinks. Eugenol is the chemical compound found in cloves with unique pain-relieving abilities. It numbs pain on contact, promotes circulation, and relaxes tense muscles.
- Strong Analgesic
- Stress Relief (Clove essential oil is commonly inhaled as a stress relief treatment which stimulates the mind and relieves anxiety)
Can be used as a tea, applied topically to affected areas, or inhaled to relax tense muscles by massaging the oil into the affected area.
Ginger Root (Zingiber Officinale) is a flowering plant whose rhizome (Ginger root) is commonly used as a spice, but also touted for its health benefits. Ginger is also known as the headache elixir.
- Antioxidants (Protects against free radicals, bacteria and viruses)
- Anti-inflammatory (Reduces inflammation of blood vessels, reduces nausea caused by migraines)
As a tea, you can steep ginger juice and mix with lemon juice. Also, you can use the powdered ginger as a paste and apply it to your forehead a few minutes for faster relief.
Turmeric is used in both traditional and alternative medicine. It belongs to the Curcuma longa plant of the Zingiberaceae family and is a rhizomatous stem. The active component in turmeric is curcumin, not related to the spice cumin. It’s been found to decrease the number of migraines, lessen the pain and length of each attack. Used as a supplemental therapy for the treatment of migraine, it contains properties such as:
- Analgesic and immune-modulatory
Turmeric can be taken in several forms as a tea, a capsuled supplement(found in most health food stores), and as a paste.
Native to North American, Teaberry, known as wintergreen, is an edible plant, made famous by Teaberry gum, and has been used medicinally over the years for its anti-inflammatory properties. Historically, Teaberry is used as an astringent and stimulant to fight fatigue but also is known to treat neuralgias, headaches, stomach pain, and vomiting. It can be used to make teas, tinctures, and oil extracts.
You can brew teaberry in hot water for 3 to 4 minutes and drink the mixture to experience its healing effects.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, is a pungent herb is often used to season many dishes and comes in many varieties. Basil leaves consist of many health compounds with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties: eugenol, citronellol, linalool, citral, limonene, and terpineol (all essential oils). The oil acts as a muscle relaxant and helps alleviate tension headaches.
Basil can be used as a tea by simmering 3 or 4 leaves in a cup of boiling water and adding honey to taste. Chew on a few leaves or inhale steam from basils boiled in a pot of water will also alleviate the headache.
Butterbur (Petasites Hybridus) is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, belonging to the same family as sunflowers. Historically, Butterbur tea dates back 2000 years as an herbal medicine used to treat the black plague and fever. In the last couple of centuries, it was used to treat coughing, asthma attacks, upset stomach, headaches, seasonal allergies, skin lacerations, and urinary tract infections. Scientific evidence suggests compounds in the plant may help migraines.
- Anti-inflammatory compounds (Petasin and Isopetasin) reduces inflammation and pressure on blood vessels, reduces the intensity as well as the frequency of migraines.
Butterbur can be found as a supplement and tea in most health food stores.
Feverfew (Tanacetum Parthenium), a flowering plant resembling a daisy, is traditionally used to prevent migraines. It contains flavonoids, volatile oils, and parthenolide, which is know to reduce inflammation.
It can be taken as a supplement, a tea, or simply chew the leaves.
Peppermint leaves and their essential oils are used for medicinal and culinary purposes. In addition to headache treatment, it’s also used to relieve nausea, gastrointestinal problems, spasms, and toothaches. Peppermint is available in liquid capsules or tea for easy brewing.
Lavender Oil: Place a few drops on a tissue or cloth, or add two drops to two cups of boiling water, and inhale the steam to alleviate headaches. Or you can simply mix two drops with a tablespoon of almond or olive oil and massage on your forehead.
Along with medicinal herbs, take measures to prevent migraines such as resting your eyes, staying out of bright sunlight, or lighting, taking breaks from the computer screen, and other visual tasks. Hydrate often, avoid stress, and low blood sugar. Yoga and breathing exercises are also great techniques to reduce stress.
**Please consult your doctor before trying any of these natural remedies.
For more information on ocular migraines please visit American Migraine Foundation.