Help and frequently asked questions

What is a migraine?


Those who suffer from the debilitating condition of migraines can testify to the fact this chronic neurological condition can affect their day-to-day lives, but just how is this kind of headache differentiated from others?

What are the symptoms of migraines?

Not everyone has the same symptoms, but most sufferers - known as migraineurs - experience an intense, throbbing or pulsing pain in one area of the head. It generally only affects either the left or right side of the body and can be accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, diarrhoea, decreased blood circulation, nausea and vomiting.Your vision may also be affected. These symptoms generally only last from four to 72 hours, so if you are still experiencing pain after this time, it may be worth consulting your doctor or optometrist.

What is aura?

Some migraineurs experience an 'aura' which precedes the headache. This is often in the form of visual disturbances such as flashing lights, zigzag lines, tunnel vision or a temporary loss of vision. These can move around the vision, rotating and oscillating and can include simple flashes, specks or shimmering lights. These visual symptoms are reversible and generally only last during 15 - 20 minutes, although they can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour. If you experience visual disturbances that last longer than an hour, it is best to make an appointment with your optometrist. Flashing lights can sometimes indicate a retinal tear, which requires emergency surgery to preserve your sight.

What are the different kinds of migraines?

No two migraines are the same and while most can be divided into two categories - those with aura, and those without - there are a few other types to be aware of.  Retinal migraines for example, are recurrent attacks that only involve one eye. These often occur frequently and are accompanied by visual disturbances such as blind spots or blindness in one eye. As migraines are more likely to affect women, there have been some links made between the condition and female hormones. Some women even experience what is known as menstrual migraines, which only occur around two days before their period starts or finishes. This head pain is not found at any other time. Some women find their symptoms improve after menopause or a hysterectomy.

However, if you notice any change in the frequency of attacks, it is best to schedule an appointment with your GP to ensure there are no underlying causes.If you experience a migraine that lasts more than 72 hours or get frequent migraines more than 15 days a month for an average of three months of the year, you need to consult your GP. Your eyes will not suffer from any damage, however, despite the visual disturbances, so there is no need to rush to your optometrist more than you would normally require. However, make sure your optometrist is aware you suffer from migraines.

What are the triggers for migraines?

Internal stimuli can vary from person to person. However, common factors that can trigger a migraine include missing meals, caffeine, alcohol consumption, menstruation, stress, sleep deprivation, oversleeping, certain foods and other environmental factors.Eye strain can also lead to migraines, so if you are having trouble focussing, make sure you book in an appointment with your optometrist for a check up. This could be the cause of constant migraines. If you have recently got transitions lenses, it could take you awhile to get used to them, which could also result in migraines. Book in an appointment with your optometrist who can give you some tips as well as ensure you have been fitted with the correct prescription.

What happens after a migraine?

Once a migraineur's pounding headache has ceased, this does not mean the migraine is over. These often fade slowly, but some people may find relief from their symptoms by vomiting. However, most people report feeling 'hungover' after a migraine. Symptoms of this migraine stage can include fatigue, lowered mood levels, poor concentration and comprehension and lowered intellect levels.If your visual disturbances last beyond 72 hours, it is best to schedule an appointment with your optometrist as there might be another underlying cause.

What kind of treatments are available for migraines?

Often you can treat your symptoms at home by recording them in a migraine diary. This might enable you to spot any triggers which you can then avoid. Many people find respite from lying in a quiet, dark room and sleeping. However, if you need medication to control your symptoms, you could try over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. If these don't do the trick, ask your GP if you could try triptans, which work for around two thirds of migraineurs - there are tablets, dissolvable wafers, nasal sprays and injections available. You might need to play around with the dosages and treatment options to find one that works for you. You will also need to be aware of side effects. Topimirate is often prescribed, and this comes with the risk of developing acute glaucoma, or secondary angle closure which can mimic the symptoms of acute glaucoma. Speak to your GP and optometrist if you are thinking about trying this medicine to help your migraine headaches.There are also a range of preventative medicines available, so it could be worth chatting to your doctor to find out what your options are, particularly if you have a history of glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke or are pregnant or breastfeeding.