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I'm seeing jagged lines in my vision, what is it?

Ocular Migraine

Have you ever seen a temporary black spot in your vision?  How about jagged white lines?  Something that looks like heat waves shimmering in your peripheral vision?

If you have, you may have been experiencing what is known as an ocular migraine. Ocular migraines occur when blood vessels spasm in the visual center of the brain (the occipital lobe) or the retina.

They can take on several different symptoms but typically last from a few minutes to an hour.  They can take on either positive or negative visual symptoms meaning they can produce what looks like a black blocked out area in your vision (negative symptom) or they can produce visual symptoms that you see but know aren’t really there like heat waves or jagged white lines that look almost like lightning streaks (positive symptoms).

Some people do get a headache after the visual symptoms but most people do not.  They get the visual symptoms which resolve on their own in under an hour and then generally just feel slightly out of sorts after the episode but don’t get a significant headache. The majority of episodes last about 20 minutes but can go on for an hour.  The hallmark of this problem is that once the visual phenomenon resolves the vision returns completely back to normal with no residual change or defect.

If you have this happen for the first time it can be fairly scary and it is a good idea to have a thorough eye exam by your ophthalmologist or optometrist soon after the episode to be sure there is nothing else causing the problem.

There are other things besides an ocular migraine that can cause similar symptoms.  Flashing lights and new floating spots in your vision could be the sign of a retinal tear or detachment (see I'm seeing new floating spots in my vision, what should I do?).


Many people who get ocular migraines tend to have them occur in clusters.  They will get three or four episodes within a week and then may not have another one for several months or even years.

There are some characteristics that raise your risk for ocular migraines.  The biggest one is a personal history of having migraine headaches.  Having a family history of migraines also raises your risk as does a history of motion sickness.

Although the symptoms can cause a great deal of anxiety, especially on the first occurrence, ocular migraines rarely cause any long term problems and almost never require treatment as long as they are not accompanied by significant headaches.

So if symptoms like this suddenly occur in your vision try to remain calm, pull over if you are driving, and just wait for them to go away.  If they persist for longer than an hour, then you should seek immediate medical attention. For more on Ocular Migraine click on the video below.
View Video
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Comments 61

 
Guest - Lorraine Gould on Thursday, 16 August 2018 22:38
Thank you. I thought I was going blind!

I have just experienced the very thing that you have described. After the temporary visual impairement, I felt slightly nauseated and now have a slight headache. It is the very first time this has happened. Your article has put my mind at ease but I will still visit the Optician tomorrow.

I have just experienced the very thing that you have described. After the temporary visual impairement, I felt slightly nauseated and now have a slight headache. It is the very first time this has happened. Your article has put my mind at ease but I will still visit the Optician tomorrow.
Dr. Wnorowski on Friday, 17 August 2018 12:29
glad we could help

You definitely want to get checked if this was your first ever episode just to make sure there is nothing else wrong.

You definitely want to get checked if this was your first ever episode just to make sure there is nothing else wrong.
Guest - audrey on Tuesday, 06 November 2018 09:35
waves

Hi there i have been getting these waves in my eyes for sometime very frightening , but consultant says im not sitting correctly with my neck ,, my GP has now referred me back in what can it be ? getting very worried what else could it be

Hi there i have been getting these waves in my eyes for sometime very frightening , but consultant says im not sitting correctly with my neck ,, my GP has now referred me back in what can it be ? getting very worried what else could it be
Guest - Melissa on Thursday, 23 August 2018 14:16
Occular migraines and more...

I have these off and on. I had an occular migraine yesterday. I have a quick question. I get "migraines" in different forms, but never the horrendous headache. I get the migraines that make my senses go crazy. Sometimes it's just the occular...sometimes my hearing becomes sensitive, to the point that I need complete silence because any sound hurts. Sometimes my nose gets really sensitive (I already have a sensitive nose) that all the smells around me burn the back of my nose and give me a headache. Sometimes it's touch... the slightly touch sends a sort of strange feeling through me, making me cringe away. I don't think I've had anything with taste, though... My doctor said that he believes all of these are migraines. Is this something that you have found to be the case for those who suffer from the occular migraines, that they also suffer migraines in their other senses as well?

I have these off and on. I had an occular migraine yesterday. I have a quick question. I get "migraines" in different forms, but never the horrendous headache. I get the migraines that make my senses go crazy. Sometimes it's just the occular...sometimes my hearing becomes sensitive, to the point that I need complete silence because any sound hurts. Sometimes my nose gets really sensitive (I already have a sensitive nose) that all the smells around me burn the back of my nose and give me a headache. Sometimes it's touch... the slightly touch sends a sort of strange feeling through me, making me cringe away. I don't think I've had anything with taste, though... My doctor said that he believes all of these are migraines. Is this something that you have found to be the case for those who suffer from the occular migraines, that they also suffer migraines in their other senses as well?
Guest - guest on Sunday, 26 August 2018 01:26
lyme?

any chance you've been bitten by a tick?

any chance you've been bitten by a tick?
Dr. Wnorowski on Thursday, 23 August 2018 15:03
ocular migraine

It is not a common scenario I see with ocular migraine patients but that doesn't mean it's not the root cause of your sensation issues. That being said, with that many symptoms it would probably be wise to see a neurologist and possibly a brain MRI scan if you haven't done that already.

It is not a common scenario I see with ocular migraine patients but that doesn't mean it's not the root cause of your sensation issues. That being said, with that many symptoms it would probably be wise to see a neurologist and possibly a brain MRI scan if you haven't done that already.
Guest - Gina M Doyle on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 00:28
Jagged lines

Can an ocular migraine be a sign or symptom of a stroke ?

Can an ocular migraine be a sign or symptom of a stroke ?
Dr. Wnorowski on Tuesday, 16 October 2018 00:34
stroke

Usually an ocular migraine is not an indicator of a stroke. If you have any other symptoms (facial droop, weakness in leg or arm, difficulty speaking etc.) along with the visual symptoms you should go directly to a comprehensive stroke center or emergency room.

Usually an ocular migraine is not an indicator of a stroke. If you have any other symptoms (facial droop, weakness in leg or arm, difficulty speaking etc.) along with the visual symptoms you should go directly to a comprehensive stroke center or emergency room.
Guest - Drea on Saturday, 20 October 2018 22:15
Happened this morning - first time! Whoa!

Had this exact thing happen this morning. At first, 'darkness' was creeping up from the bottom part of my eye. I thought it was swollen. Then within just a minute or two the jagged lines/'smear across the screen' line in my eye was there. Crazy sensation. Had no idea what was up. Could not see well or read, vision was definitely impaired. Did pass within an hour, with no real headache following. Just an uncomfortable feeling in my eye that seemed to be the main eye it occurred it..maybe a bit of swelling? Don't know but will be going to an eye Dr. next week to check this out. No history of migraines or motion sickness. Finding this article was comforting as this was the first time I've experienced this.

Had this exact thing happen this morning. At first, 'darkness' was creeping up from the bottom part of my eye. I thought it was swollen. Then within just a minute or two the jagged lines/'smear across the screen' line in my eye was there. Crazy sensation. Had no idea what was up. Could not see well or read, vision was definitely impaired. Did pass within an hour, with no real headache following. Just an uncomfortable feeling in my eye that seemed to be the main eye it occurred it..maybe a bit of swelling? Don't know but will be going to an eye Dr. next week to check this out. No history of migraines or motion sickness. Finding this article was comforting as this was the first time I've experienced this.
Guest - Debbie on Monday, 12 November 2018 17:17
Happening right now!

So this is my second wavy type episode in one week?? I get headaches every day because of my C3 and C4 disc but just started getting the wavy lines in my left eye they last of up to 20 minutes with pain in my left temple. Does this all stem from my discs in my neck? I am scheduled for surgery late December hopefully this goes away with my surgery???

So this is my second wavy type episode in one week?? I get headaches every day because of my C3 and C4 disc but just started getting the wavy lines in my left eye they last of up to 20 minutes with pain in my left temple. Does this all stem from my discs in my neck? I am scheduled for surgery late December hopefully this goes away with my surgery???
Dr. Wnorowski on Monday, 12 November 2018 17:33
Neck

It is probably not related to your neck problem but there could be some impingement on the vertebral vessels in the neck that could effect the blood flow to the visual center in the brain.

It is probably not related to your neck problem but there could be some impingement on the vertebral vessels in the neck that could effect the blood flow to the visual center in the brain.
Guest - Angela on Tuesday, 13 November 2018 17:15
de it pretty much impossible to function at work until it passed. It starts in a small spot, then expands forming a letter C. The continues to enlarge and move out of vision range until its gone. Thank you for the article...it has helped relieve some o

Just experienced my second one while at work within a week's time. I had no idea what it was. It made it pretty much impossible to function at work until it passed. It starts in a small spot, then expands forming a letter C. The continues to enlarge and move out of vision range until its gone. Thank you for the article...it has helped relieve some of my anxiety I had.

Just experienced my second one while at work within a week's time. I had no idea what it was. It made it pretty much impossible to function at work until it passed. It starts in a small spot, then expands forming a letter C. The continues to enlarge and move out of vision range until its gone. Thank you for the article...it has helped relieve some of my anxiety I had.
Dr. Wnorowski on Tuesday, 13 November 2018 17:17
Happy to help

Glad it helped keep you from getting overly anxious

Glad it helped keep you from getting overly anxious
Guest - jay korobow on Friday, 16 November 2018 15:37
thank you much!

First time for me. Just stopping after 15-20 minutes. Google and you saved me panic. Thanks so very much!

First time for me. Just stopping after 15-20 minutes. Google and you saved me panic. Thanks so very much!
Dr. Wnorowski on Friday, 16 November 2018 16:05
First time

Very happy to help

Very happy to help
Guest - Janis on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 05:33
Why now?

Just had a second episode tonight. First one occurred two days ago. I just about freaked out and almost went to the ER. Had my husband google the symptons of the white lights and he said dry eyes can cause the phenomenon. Is there any course of treatment other than just letting the eposide pass? Also not sure why this started at age 65. Never had any type of migranes before. Are there triggers to set this of? Both episodes have been in the evening.

Just had a second episode tonight. First one occurred two days ago. I just about freaked out and almost went to the ER. Had my husband google the symptons of the white lights and he said dry eyes can cause the phenomenon. Is there any course of treatment other than just letting the eposide pass? Also not sure why this started at age 65. Never had any type of migranes before. Are there triggers to set this of? Both episodes have been in the evening.
Dr. Wnorowski on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 12:58
Why Now

No particular reason why now. If it is new at 65 it would be wise to get it checked out to make sure it is not something else. Get an appointment with an ophthalmologist (don't go to the ER). There is no relation to dry eye, If your exam is normal thAn there is nothing else to do about it. Just wait the 20 minutes or so for it to go away.

No particular reason why now. If it is new at 65 it would be wise to get it checked out to make sure it is not something else. Get an appointment with an ophthalmologist (don't go to the ER). There is no relation to dry eye, If your exam is normal thAn there is nothing else to do about it. Just wait the 20 minutes or so for it to go away.
Guest - Renata Aleman on Friday, 28 December 2018 21:05
Guest - Renata

Dr. Wnorowski
Thank you so much for describing this and writing about this! this has helped ease a lot of my anxiety and had no idea there was such a thing as an ocular migraine. This has happened to me twice is the last couple of months, the most recent episode was last Friday. Could this have any relation to MS?

Dr. Wnorowski Thank you so much for describing this and writing about this! this has helped ease a lot of my anxiety and had no idea there was such a thing as an ocular migraine. This has happened to me twice is the last couple of months, the most recent episode was last Friday. Could this have any relation to MS?
Dr. Wnorowski on Tuesday, 01 January 2019 17:52
MS

There is no relationship between ocular migraine and MS that I am aware of.

There is no relationship between ocular migraine and MS that I am aware of.
Guest - eric beene on Friday, 01 February 2019 16:37
I get these from time to time

I tend to get these if I just got up and am about to eat breakfast, or later in the day, several hours after drinking a protein shake with lunch (I work part time, helping people on computers) I have thought this is because I walk 20 minutes to a bus stop and its my eyes telling me I'm dehydrated (occasionally, drinking water will get rid of the wavy view, however lately, water had no effect) or because I drank too much protein shake (kind of like drinking a caffeine soda the day before, and my eyesight goes wacko; I drank black tea once, and 15 minutes later, found out when reading some papers, my peripheral eyesight was wavy, so I drank water) The other thing is I do not get a headache-thank god, I hate those-for me, this "wavy thing" is almost like a slow moving ripple, starts out tiny, off to one inch of where I'm looking, then goes outward until its past my eyesight. I'm told I do not do much blinking; also, if it is dehydration, then why, since I drink plenty of fluids. My first encounter with this was talking "ripped fuel" to stay awake.....back in 2004. Presently 43 y/o, male, prior military.

I tend to get these if I just got up and am about to eat breakfast, or later in the day, several hours after drinking a protein shake with lunch (I work part time, helping people on computers) I have thought this is because I walk 20 minutes to a bus stop and its my eyes telling me I'm dehydrated (occasionally, drinking water will get rid of the wavy view, however lately, water had no effect) or because I drank too much protein shake (kind of like drinking a caffeine soda the day before, and my eyesight goes wacko; I drank black tea once, and 15 minutes later, found out when reading some papers, my peripheral eyesight was wavy, so I drank water) The other thing is I do not get a headache-thank god, I hate those-for me, this "wavy thing" is almost like a slow moving ripple, starts out tiny, off to one inch of where I'm looking, then goes outward until its past my eyesight. I'm told I do not do much blinking; also, if it is dehydration, then why, since I drink plenty of fluids. My first encounter with this was talking "ripped fuel" to stay awake.....back in 2004. Presently 43 y/o, male, prior military.
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