What do aura migraines look like?

While most people understand what a migraine is, many people don’t realise that migraines are often accompanied by aura. But what is aura? And what do migraines with aura look like?

GP at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, Dr Neel Patel, discusses what migraines with aura are, what can cause them, and how you can treat them if you experience one. 

What are migraines? 

A migraine is like a very intense headache which causes symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to sound and light. Migraines are unique from headaches in their severity, the fact they often target one side of the head, and the unusual symptom of aura.

What are aura migraines?

Some people who suffer from migraines also experience aura. Migraines with aura are most commonly visual disturbances which occur during or before the migraine pain begins but can also affect other senses as well or instead. 

Interestingly, aura can also occur without headache symptoms at all, often referred to as ‘silent’ migraines. 

There are multiple different types of visual aura sufferers experience. But they can usually be categorised in seven ways: flashes of light; zig-zags; blind spots; tunnel vision; geometric shapes; shimmers; or temporary blindness.

What do aura migraines look like? 

Everyone can experience an aura migraine differently. Here are eight things you might observe when you have one:

  1. Flashing lights
  2. Zig-zags
  3. Blind spots
  4. Flashing lights
  5. Tunnel vision
  6. Geometric shapes
  7. Shimmers
  8. Temporary blindness

Let’s look at each one in turn.

1) Flashing lights

Some migraine sufferers experience flashes of light in their vision. These flashes may be caused by the jelly inside the eye shrinking slightly and tugging on the retina (the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye). 

If new and intense flashes occur accompanied by dark shadows in your vision, this could be a sign of retinal detachment and you should go to A&E immediately. 

2) Zig-zags

With this type of aura, sufferers experience zig-zag type lines appearing in their vision. This symptom is very similar to metamorphopsia, a syndrome which distorts the shape of objects in the field of view. 

3) Blind spots

Some sufferers experience small areas of total darkness in their vision before or during a migraine. These blind spots may have a similar origin to symptoms of flashing lights, often caused by minor retinal detachments. 

4) Tunnel vision

For migraine sufferers experiencing tunnel vision, the peripherals of their view may go black or be blurred, or they may experience loss of vision in one eye. 

While tunnel vision is a symptom of aura migraines, it could also be the symptom of a mini-stroke, so it is important to seek immediate medical assistance if tunnel vision or sight loss comes on suddenly. 

5) Geometric shapes

Some migraine sufferers experience geometric shapes appearing in their vision, often in different colours. This symptom is very similar to kaleidoscopic vision, where colour shifts and distorts vision. 

6) Shimmers

Shimmers in vision during migraines may have similar causes to the symptoms of flashing lights and zig-zags. Here, sufferers experience a shimmering region in their sight, commonly curving around their centre of vision. This condition is also referred to as scintillating scotoma. 

7) Temporary blindness

Some migraine sufferers experience temporary loss of vision, usually lasting less than 30 minutes. While this symptom can be frightening for anybody experiencing it, it is especially worrying for those over 45 as it may be the sign of a stroke or inflamed arteries. 

Are all aura migraine symptoms visual? 

No, many people who suffer from aura migraines experience symptoms that do not affect their sight or vision at all. Non-visual symptoms of aura migraines include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling/pins and needles
  • Weakness in one side of the body
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo

What causes aura migraines?

Like other migraines, aura migraines are thought to be caused by changes in chemicals in the brain that can cause blood vessels to constrict then dilate leading to pain. Another theory researchers have found is spreading electrical impulses causing the pain.

There are many common triggers which may cause migraines for certain people. These include:

  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • Hormonal changes
  • Bright lights or loud noises
  • Medication overuse

This being said, many people experience migraines without a trigger, but it can always be useful to identify potential triggers so that you can manage migraines before they start. 

Are aura migraines dangerous? 

You should seek out medical help if you experience any new eye changes or vision changes to ensure that the cause can be found and treated if needed.

Aura migraines are typically only as dangerous as other migraines, however with additional sensory disturbance. However, sudden and intense migraines may be a symptom of something more serious, such as a stroke or brain tumour, so if something feels unusual you should consult a doctor immediately. 

Some visual symptoms of aura migraines, such as flashing lights, zig-zags, and shimmers, carry the danger of retinal detachment. 

How are aura migraines treated?

If you’re experiencing frequent or severe migraines, regardless of experiencing aura, you should always talk to your GP, as they will be able to discuss possible causes as well as effective treatments or methods to relieve symptoms. 

Non-prescription painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may be useful in relieving painful headache symptoms. For severe or chronic migraines, your GP may recommend specific migraine medication. This might include:

  • Vydura (Rimegepant): Vydura can treat and prevent migraines, it’s a wafer that’s placed under the tongue. Find out if Vydura is a suitable medicine for you here. 
  • Sumatriptan: An effective migraine treatment, Sumatriptan tablets are to be taken when the headache phase of your migraine begins. Sumatriptan is available online via an online consultation, check it’s suitable for you today.  
  • Rizatriptan: Rizatriptan, an effective migraine treatment, relieves the symptoms of migraine. It can be taken alongside over-the-counter pain relief and anti-sickness medicines. See if Rizatriptan is the right treatment for you here.

Sometimes, a combination of medicines will be needed. If these kinds of treatments don’t work for you, your GP might refer you to a specialist for a treatment like transcranial magnetic stimulation. This is where an electrical device is strapped to your head and delivers small magnetic pulses through your skin.

Read more about migraines

You can read more advice on migraines in these articles: