Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Scintillating Scotoma

The first one happened twelve years ago, just a couple of weeks after we'd moved into our present home.  I was sitting at the computer, transcribing a medical report, when I became aware of a shimmering circle with jagged edges in my visual field.  Closing one eye or the other did not make it go away.  The area that shimmered was a blind spot, about a letter or two wide.  I waited for it to go away, but instead it got bigger over a twenty-minute period, and then vanished.  I didn't mention it to anyone, but when it happened again a few weeks later while we were visiting relatives, I became concerned.  Fortunately I had an ophthalmologic appointment scheduled.

My doctor asked some questions, didn't seem concerned, and told me I had a condition called acephalgic (painless) migraine, ocular or optical migraine, or scintillating scotoma.  I like the last name best but tend to use the second.  "Not to worry," she told me.  "Just enjoy the light show."  I don't worry, but I can't say I enjoy the light show because they generally come when I'm reading or at the computer.

They are more common in the spring and in the autumn.  They tend to come in clusters, sometimes three in two weeks and then none for several months.  They last for about twenty minutes and when they go away, sometimes I feel tired or "funny" -- I can't be more specific about "funny."  Just "strange."

Scintillating scotoma is a bit of an annoyance, and that's all.  I'm thankful I don't have full-fledged migraine headaches -- my mother had them and one of my children has suffered from them since the age of six.

I had one last week.  Yesterday I had one in the morning while at work and another when driving home.  A third one struck about an hour after dinner.  I was sewing and I imagine my concentration was impaired because I made the same mistake on three blocks (yes, I know, I'm a big fan of consistency!).  So I gave up and did something else.  And went to bed earlier than usual.



20 comments:

Quilting Corner said...

Thanks so much for talking about this. I have the same thing and didn't know what it was. I have it about 2-3 times a year and it lasts about 1/2-1 hour. I have a slight headache afterwords. I can see the lights with both eye shut so I knew it was coming from the brain and not my eyes. Now I have a name for it.
Thanks, Etty

Diana said...

I, too, have these very sporadically. The first time I was home alone with an infant and a toddler and I thought I was having some sort of stroke. I'm just grateful that they have never led to a migraine.

Sandy said...

Hi Nancy,
First,I want to say I have been reading your blog for a couple of years and thoroughly enjoy it. My daughter has the same thing and I got a lot of info in your entry today. The Dr. we went to said that it was more annoying than anything but I have never heard anyone else talk about what they experience. Have a great snowy day.It is beautiful here in the mountains of northern Pa.
Sandy

Suzan said...

I have had these for about 12 years. The first time was extremely frightening as my grandmother had a retina detach and I was pretty freaked out. After it went away (in about half an hour) I contacted my eye doctor and she explained what they were. The worst time for me is if one happens when I am driving. If that occurs, I have to pull over until it subsides. Thankfully they are not dangerous - just a little scary and annoying!

howdidIgethere said...

In the past few years, I, too, have experienced "scintillating scotoma" but never knew the fancier word -- just "optical migraine". Never had anything like it when I was younger and never heard of such a thing until I experienced it! As several others said, the first time, it was disconcerting to say the least and more than a little scary. I was glad when my eye doctor told me what it was and not to worry.

I find it annoying because I am limited in what I can do (computer, reading, sewing, etc.) but don't seem to have any after-effects, other than relief.

Maybe this post will reassure others who have them but don't know what they are!

floribunda... aka Julie said...

me too! I've had those infrequently over the last 20 years. My doctor described the slightly uneasy feeling afterwards as "disphoria" -- goes well with "scintillating scotoma"! I'd never heard that name before. For me, there's a certain quality of light that tends to bring it on -- the glare of sun on water, for instance.

Deb said...

I've had that too and always wondered what it was, but never visited the doctor. Glad to know what it is...thanks for the info.

anne bebbington said...

Me too but only a couple of times ever - my mum has long been a migraine sufferer and I recognised the symptoms of this from her description - thankfully I never developed the headache after these episodes although I suffered from migraine without these symptoms between the births of two of my children - all very strange

KQ Sue said...

I have the painless migraines, usually at very inconvenient times. First one I had was at 10 pm, when I was getting the store I managed closed and the registers counted. I thought maybe I was having a stroke. My neurologist told me they were just painless migraines. I can't see anything, when they hit, except the pretty sparkly lights. Mine last 10 - 30 minutes.

jirons said...

My dr. told me ocular migraines can be hormone related. Mine last for a year or so and haven't had another in about 20 years

WhiteStone said...

I had those " eye migraines " while I was doing chemo last year. Only about four episodes. Haven't had once since.

Tanya said...

Wow... There is a name for this? Great to know (I guess). I thought it might be psychological. I've noticed it twice... both times after something stressful and I wondered if I was losing it. But it has been a year or so and I don't feel lost yet so I had forgotten about it. Enjoy the light show? Okay I will!

Speaking many languages all at the same time! said...

I've had these too. The first time was when I went to the Christmas Market in the caves in Valkenburg, Netherlands. Needless to say, I didn't have much fun and my husband had no clue what I was talking about or how it felt. I could have done so much more shopping if only I could have seen clearly what I was looking at... I guess that was a good thing?

Colleen doesnmannter said...

I got one just like this this morning, no migraine after but it scared me and I felt 'funny' for hours after. A bit shell-shocked and numbed out or something. Don't want it to ever come back and certainly don't want the migraine to come along ever! My GP told me it's called Fortification Spectra. Too many names for this thing...

Janis said...

I just got my first one last night -- it didn't scare me because I'd heard of them before, and my oldest brother gets them, so I knew what it was and just sat there annoyed and waited it out. No headache afterwards, thankfully. Hopefully, they will remain painless.

It's irksome for me because I've also got TLE, so my brain is a little overexcitable in general. I wish it would calm down. :-P

Alexandra Ene said...

I've had those for years and didn't know they had a name till yesterday. Gladly it never happened while driving, however it usually happens when I am at my computer or while reading, so it's annoying. But now that I know it's nothing serious, I can actually start enjoying the show, I guess.

It hits me in rows, I can have 3 or 4 in a week and then nothing for a couple of months.

Abby said...

I've been suffering opthalmic migraines/ scintillating scotoma for about 6 months now. Someone told me that it can be caused by dehydration which, when I think about when they occur, definitely fits for me. I often get them on Monday mornings after a weekend of 'buring the candle at both ends'...possibly including the odd glass of wine or two! I've also had them during long outdoor hikes in the sunshine. Since finding this out I've been much more careful about drinking enough water and hardly get them anymore. Worth a go!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting!! I experience these at least once every couple of months and wasn't sure if something was wrong. I am not one to go to the doctor (I know!) and didn't have any issues before or after so I've just been dealing with them. I feel so much better knowing that it isn't something horrible or life threatening. Thank you again!

Anonymous said...

When I get this scintillating scotoma I´ m always in a panic attack. What is the cause of such a horrifying fit? Anybody knows about the treatment? Help me...

Anonymous said...

For several years I had just migrane after scatoma. Some years ago I started to feel funny and then quite lost. Not so funny anymore.. I discovered (In my case) it was the milk or derivatives I've been eaten 2 days before the episode. I don't eat any milk, butter, cheese, white wine and vinegar from it and all that food that could contain diary. It goes better, not perfectly. I hope it helps.