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The 19th Century Doctor Who Mapped His Hallucinations

Hubert Airy's 1870 diagram of his migraine aura looks familiar to many migraineurs today.
Hubert Airy’s 1870 diagram of his migraine aura looks familiar to many migraineurs today.
The Royal Society

Hubert Airy first became aware of his affliction in the fall of 1854, when he noticed a small blind spot interfering with his ability to read. “At first it looked just like the spot which you see after having looked at the sun or some bright object,” he later wrote. But the blind spot was growing, its edges taking on a zigzag shape that reminded Airy of the bastions of a fortified medieval town. Only, they were gorgeously colored. And they were moving.

“All the interior of the fortification, so to speak, was boiling and rolling about in a most wonderful manner as if it was some thick liquid all alive,” Airy wrote. What happened next was less wonderful: a splitting headache, what we now call a migraine.

Hubert Airy's drawing shows how his migraine aura grew over the course of about 20 minutes (click the image to expand).
Hubert Airy’s drawing, shown here in its entirety, illustrates how his migraine aura grew over the course of about 20 minutes (click the image to expand).
The Royal Society

Airy was a student when he suffered his first migraine, but he later became a physician. His description of his aura—the hallucinatory symptoms that can precede a migraine—was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1870, along with a drawing that showed how the hallucination grew to take over much of his visual field. “It’s an iconic illustration,” says Frederick Lepore, an ophthalmological neurologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. “It’s so precise, like a series of time-lapse photographs.”

Lepore showed Airy’s drawing to 100 of his migraine patients who experience a visual aura (only a minority do). Forty-eight of them recognized it instantly, he wrote in a historical note in the Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology in 2014. He still shows the drawing to his patients today. “People are astonished,” he says. “They say, ‘Where did you get that?’”

What’s more remarkable, Lepore says, is that Airy’s drawing anticipates discoveries in neuroscience that were still decades in the future.

Airy correctly deduced that the source of his hallucinations was his brain, not his eyes. He wasn’t the first to do this, but it was still an open question at the time.

What’s most prescient about his drawing, though, is that it anticipates the discovery of an orderly map of the visual world in the primary visual cortex, a crucial brain region for processing what we see. When Airy published his paper, that discovery was still nearly half a century away.

This diagram by Gordon Holmes illustrates how different regions of the visual field (right) map onto different regions of the primary visual cortex (left).
This diagram by Gordon Holmes illustrates how different regions of the visual field (right) map onto different regions of the primary visual cortex (left).
The Royal Society

Most accounts credit the British neurologist Gordon Holmes with that later discovery. Holmes studied the visual deficits of hundreds of soldiers who’d suffered gunshot wounds to the back of the head in Word War I. “The British helmet was seated high on the head,” Lepore wrote, in a historical paper describing Holmes’s contributions. Unfortunately, this left the primary visual cortex largely unprotected, and provided Holmes many opportunities to study damage to this part of the brain.

By carefully mapping the soldiers’ blind spots and the locations of their wounds, Holmes discovered that damage to the most posterior part of visual cortex (that is, the part farthest back in the head) resulted in blindness at the center of the visual field, whereas wounds located closer to the front of the visual cortex resulted in blindness off to the side. Everything the eyes see maps neatly onto the visual cortex.

Holmes also discovered—and this is the part that relates to Airy’s drawing—that the visual map is magnified at its center. If the visual cortex is a road atlas, the part that represents the center of the visual field is like one of those inset city maps that show a smaller area in lots more detail.

This meshes nicely with Airy’s observation that the zigzags around his blind spot were packed tightly together in the center of his visual field and grew wider in the periphery. “Airy’s drawing fits beautifully with our modern conception of how the visual cortex is organized,” Lepore says.

Hubert Airy's father, George, also saw zigzag hallucinations, but they didn't precede a headache for the elder Airy.
Hubert Airy’s father, George, also saw zigzag hallucinations, but they didn’t precede a headache for the elder Airy.
The Royal Society

There’s still much we don’t know about migraines and migraine auras. One hypothesis is that a sort of electrical wave sweeps across the visual cortex, causing hallucinations that spread across the corresponding parts of the visual field. In a loosely descriptive way, Airy’s time series drawings—showing an ever expanding shape—jibe with this too.

Even less is known about the neural mechanisms that might produce the vivid colors Airy drew and described. There are areas of the visual cortex, including one called V4, that contain neurons that respond to specific colors, as well as other neurons that respond to lines of specific orientations. Perhaps an electrical wave passing through such areas could produce colored zigzags, Lepore says. But no one really knows.

Airy wasn’t the first to draw his migraine aura. In fact, his father, George, who happened to be the Royal Astronomer, had published a sketch of his own zigzag hallucinations five years earlier (see above). A German neurologist published a fairly crude, looping sketch back in 1845. And others did so afterwards. The drawings made by the French neurologist Joseph Babinski (see below) are especially colorful, if lacking in detail.

But Hubert Airy’s drawing has stood the test of time better than most. His paper in the Philosophical Transactions, published at age 31, was his only contribution to the field. It’s written in the somewhat pompous, somewhat conversational style of a 19th-century polymath relating his observations to other learned men. One lengthy section recounts the observations of a Swiss doctor in the original French. Naturally, the readers of such a prestigious journal could translate for themselves.

That Airy got so much right at a time when so little was known about the brain is a testament to his powers of observation, Lepore says. He documented what he saw meticulously, even though it was visible to himself alone.

This detail from Joseph Babinksi's 1890 drawing of his migraine aura shows a zigzag pattern not unlike the one Hubert Airy saw.
This detail from Joseph Babinksi’s 1890 drawing of his migraine aura shows a zigzag pattern not unlike the one Hubert Airy saw.
Wellcome Library

–Greg Miller

141 thoughts on “The 19th Century Doctor Who Mapped His Hallucinations

  1. I have seen zig zag lines and they were bright white like a neon sign that kept vibrating along the lines. It lasts 15 – 20 minutes and I never have a headache associated with it. It has happened maybe 4 times in the last 12 years. i am 82 and very seldom get headaches.

      1. One time I had a really strong desire for a glass of milk. It calmed the process. My Opt explained that a certain protein in milk will do that. I try to follow that urge. I was usually too nauseated to eat.Take care….

    1. I get these exact aura without headaches too. Maybe twice a year. It’s funny when it starts because I try to ignore it, but have to eventually just let it do its own thing. I have no control over it. Painless but still a pain when it happens.

    2. I have been getting these for many years.. it can come on quite suddenly but usually go away in 20 minutes or so.. I have never had a headache associated with this phenomenon… I have always suspected that this is associated with migraine but all my doctors have said is that it might be..

    3. Hi Vivian, 🙂 These signs zags are called “Occular migraines” but there are no headaches associated with them. I get them often, particularly during a lot of intense reading (eyestrain) but I never have migraines (or other headaches) when they occur.
      Hope this helps. :0)

    4. I have had these, too, usually when Christmas shopping Orin a place wher I believed there was too much visual input. I attributed it to perhaps low potassium levels or liw blood sugar. But I’ve never tied it to migraines. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this strange symptom.

      1. Carolyn, I have suffered from migraine with Aura since my early twenties. The Christmas shopping induced migraines are surely induced by stress & the absolutely hideous commercial lighting. Flourescent light causes eyestrain;the lights actually flicker rapidly, faster than eye can process;you can beginto see this process as the bulb deteriorates,& cycles slower, buzzing on & off.Theres a reason everything looks ugly under this light;its a stark, cold light. Incadescent light is MUCH gentler on our eyes. The recent requirements that we switch to fluorescent lights is a vile blow to migraineurs. Not to mention that those ugly, eyestraining lights are full of toxic mercury-a neurotoxin! Gee, thanks,EPA!

        1. Thanks Caroline!
          I have long known about how hideous fluorescent lights (especially in big box stores) can be incredibly irritating, but never knew why. All I knew is I couldn’t take it in those places and had to get out. (My aura’s were from Petit Mal seizures, but that was decades before the big box store lighting.)
          I’m just grateful someone else has addressed this besides myself!
          Thanks Caroline!

    5. Same for me. My doctor said I have “ocular migraines”. No headache – just the bright white, wiggly, zagged lines.

    6. Vivian I just turned 58 and I experienced this just yesterday for the first time.
      No headache,at first I thought it was from a sun reflection off some auto chrome
      but it didn’t slowly fade,then I started to think of what I may have ate.Lasted about
      10 minutes.

      1. Hello Riceman… I have experienced ocular migraines for several years, which have sometimes been followed by intense migraine headaches, and other times had only the auras… with no headaches. They were much more frequent when I was employed, and often ate quick lunches. I blamed these auras on my consumption of restaurant food, and still think they can be caused by foods ‘enhanced’ with monosodium glutamate.
        I now avoid all msg and most restaurant foods and have for several years, however within the last few weeks have had the auras twice (thankfully with no following migraine pain), but apparently they can be caused by other things. With our foods and drinks today contaminated with so many ‘preservatives,’ colorings, etc. it is not possible to identify the ‘culprit’ but I’m still convinced it has to do with the foods and drinks we consume.
        I find relaxing with my eyes closed for a few minutes to be helpful when this happens. Good luck to you Riceman…

      2. Thanks for reminding me. I posted about having this and forgot to add that along with stress I had eaten like 9 hot dogs in 2 days (it was memorial day weekend0

    7. my understanding of this is that if you have the aura without the headache it is known as an abnormal migraine in which the blood vessels of the brain shrink a little bit and then return to normal. If you get the headache, or migraine, your blood vessels get larger than normal rather than just return to normal size, thus the headache.

    8. I have the optical part but no headache. Matter of fact, the only headaches I had were wine induced. I dont drink alcohol any more. I had my first optical migraine at age 34.Had /another a week later and then none (during wake time) for20 years. I an82. Had my last one about3 months ago They last about 40 minutes. My maternal uncle had them with no headache. He called it the “picket fence”.

    9. I’m so glad you posted. Wanted to say the same. I’ve gotten this crazy zig-zag thing only once in my life but it was not accompanied by a headache. At least, not a severe one. It was more of a tight feeling around my whole face. I thought it was sinus related perhaps. It was, however, definitely, precipitated by a very stressful day. Emotional stress.

    10. I have had these for maybe 30 years, usually with no headache, but not always. Recently, I had had two in a day. In the last 4 months, I have had two auras with aphasia. Very scary. I am 73.

    11. I have had these for maybe 30 years, usually with no headache, but not always. Recently, I had had two in a day. In the last 4 months, I have had two auras with aphasia. Very scary. I am 73.

  2. Vivian, those are called “ophthalmic migraines.” I get them a handful of times a year, and they are also painless.

  3. This is my aura, exactly. I’ve had migraines since I was a child but have only been getting this aura for the past 4-5 years. Over the years I’ve become less or one to headaches and now I have a 50-50 shot of getting a headache. I’m 51.

  4. I’ve experienced migraines with auras since I was a child. I would describe them as “throw up headaches” because I didn’t know what they were at age 5. I know that I’m having a migraine when I start to see the auras which then developes into a full blown migraine complete with vomiting and numbness of my face and fingers. This is exactly what they look like.

    1. So glad you mentioned the face and finger numbness. I get that too. My tongue and lips will go numb and my finger tips.

      1. I also feel the same. Numbness in my tongue and finger. And I am not able to express myself. I can speak but I can’t find the right words for a while. It takes approx. 20 minutes. I have much less strange migraine since I do sport 2-3 times a week. I had monthly once before, now I only have 1 in a half year.

    2. I have suffered from these migraines since I was 13 . I am 68 now and have only recently found a non medical solution that has reduced the number of migraines. At the advise of a doctor I started mindful meditation about a year ago and have reduced the frequency about 50% down to about 30 a year. It may not seem like a lot but I am grateful for every bit of relieve I can get.

      1. I suffered from horrible flat on my back for 3 days in the dark migraine headaches. Thank God for Imitrex! I learned over time that my migraines were caused by my periods. Once I stopped, so did the headaches. I have noticed the auras returning however. And nagging headaches. But not a migraine.

    3. Hello Lauren, My mom used to refer to my migraines as ‘nervous headaches’ as they did seem to accompany such things as final exams or an important date, etc. That was when in high school and vomiting as I walked to school was not infrequent but was embarrassing and mortifying if anyone witnessed it.

      I’ve also learned that I am allergic to tobacco smoke and cigarettes, which can trigger auras and migraines, but thankfully those are easier to avoid these days thanks to awareness of smokings dangers.

      These days I am very careful with foods I consume, and avoid all MSG. I prefer foods as close to 100% organic as possible.

      Experience really can be our best teacher, and when we are fortunate enough to discover the root of our auras and/or migraines, we can be nearly free of them, as I have been for several years.

      Good luck to you Lauren.

  5. Yeah, I used to get this type of migraine…the hardest thing was describing these zigzag pattern/aura. It was always there and growing and accompanied by a splitting headache! I’m consoled to know I’m not the only one who suffers this…

    1. I tried to describe this to my Dr. Several years back. I told him it looked like the bent light shone through a prism, then followed by horrible headache. He looked at me like I was crazy and brushed it off. Great Dr. Huh? I felt crazy until I started researching online myself. This drawing is a perfect depiction, aside from the fact that it’s not dark, but blank(like no info is being registered and sent to my brain) where the grey areas are, and a perfectly normal scene where the black areas are. I too am glad it’s not just me.

  6. Does anyone else have hear like a long beep sound just before getting the opthalmic headache?? I’ve only gotten 4 in the last 7-8 years but i’ve learn to recognize that symptom.

    1. Yes, I forgot to add that too. I normally have Tinnitus but when I got this aura the buzzing in the left ear was intense and loud. It’s frightening because as the aura grows the sound gets louder and your face feels tight like it’s slightly numb and then in about 20 minutes it’s gone. The buzzing lessens slower than the aura

  7. It is still a migraine if there is no pain but only aura. This is also called acephalgic migraine. In some of us other symptoms follow (mild to severe aphasia, lack of coordination, light sensitivity, even hemiplegia).

    1. I get all the relates symptoms you mention but never met anyone else who does. From a young child I’ve had the zigzag visual disturbance, lack of sensation in hands and face, inability to talk sense but no headache. In my thirties I started experiencing aphasia as well, which is the most disturbing symptom. I wonder if it has affected my memory outside of migraine attacks, as it’s definitely getting worse. My three children all suffer the same form of migraine.

  8. I am 26 and started getting this aura since I was 10. The aura lasts for 15-20 mins and after that I experience severe headache. Most of the time I need to puke to lessen the headache. It gets lesser and lesser when I get older. I now experience the aura whenever I lack sleep and food intake.

    1. (sorry for my bad english, as I am from Germany – I´ll try my best)
      Paula, this is the closest that one of the comments comes to my own experiences with migraine

      I´m 43 by now and as far as I can remember, my migraines started at the age short before puberty. My migraines (6 – 10 times per year back then) always started with exactly those aural hallucinations described above, followed by extreme headaches and sickness with throwing up.

      But it got way better when I grew up to my early 20s and even better over the time until today. By now, no headaches and sickness any more, only the aural halluciantion (20-40 minutes), 1-3 times a year. When it starts, I take a 600 Ibuprofen and lay down in a dark, cool room with earplugs.

      And by the way – still, over all the years, I have no explanation for what “triggers” the migraine.

      Greetings to all of you from Bavaria, Germany

  9. This is very similar to how my migraines are, I’ve been having them since age 12, I’m 35 now. Starts as a flash of light, then squiggles of light all in a line, until it takes up my whole visual field. It always starts on my left side. I always have the headache with it, if I don’t take my med for it.

  10. Wow,…so glad to read these posts. I see the exact same, with no headache. It still worries me however. Are there negative side affects from these ophthalmic migraines?

  11. Airy’s drawing is precisely what I see about 20 minutes before I get an intense migraine. It progresses exactly as he depicted, always from the left side of my vision and begins just how he described. It starts as a tiny blind spot, not black, just… empty somehow.. It begins to spread across the left side of my vision into a huge crescent (exactly as he illustrated). I would say the only difference between what I see and what he drew is that the edges of mine are crazily colored like his, but the inside of the aura is black and white zig zag lines that are constantly strobing like some kind of party is happening in my eyes… And soon after, the pain… It lasts a few hours. I have discovered, though, that if I can detect that very first tiny little blind spot and immediately take headache medicine (ibuprofen has always worked for me) then I can usually mitigate almost the entire migraine. It may hurt just a bit after the aura has faded, but the migraine doesn’t come to fruition.

    1. Crystal, I have the exact same experience. If I take 2 Aleve as soon as the aura begins, I am able to keep the migraine at bay. It’s tough when you wake up with the migraine, as it’s too late to derail it.

  12. I have ophthalmic migraines also, which are painless. However I usually have a feeling of disorientation during and after. I have had such migraines while walking or driving; I have to stop moving or driving until they subside, which can be 20 minutes or so.

  13. I recognize these patterns too. In my case the diagnosis was “panic attack” rather than migraine. It sounds dramatic 🙂 but makes sense, since it is typically associated with stress. I have learned to recognize when the attack is about to begin, typically begins with a sense of fatigue. Starting breathing exercises helps. Also reduced coffee intake works although I miss that morning cup.

  14. Many years ago when my migraines changed, I described my non headache to my Opt. He called them optical migraines and wasn’t concerned. My headache migraines started when I was 10. The kaleidoscope was amazing, not like the drawings. Moving bright colors with sharp points of light. For the next 40 yrs they were not frequent but any sudden bright light could trigger one. The lack of headache became the norm. An obvious pattern. 30 minutes total. Vision dims, aura, tunnel vision takes over 10 minutes. Bright nauseating kaleidoscope, head down fighting vertigo 10 minutes. Vision slowly comes back, aura over 10 minutes. One of the last ones I had about 10 yrs ago was the most frightening. The final aura coming back lasted longer and my vision was gray and white, like everything was shrouded.

  15. I get these auras frequently. I first noticed the. Around age 17 when I had trouble seeing the board in Calculus class. Back then, a painful headache always followed the 20-30 minute aura. During my pregnancies, I could count on seeing auras several times/week. Since then, the frequency is down to 6-10 times/year and very seldomly accompanied by a headache. These pictures are all great descriptors of the aura I see.

  16. I’ve had these for the past 20 something years and was convinced when I first got them that I had some kind of brain tumour. When I went to the doctor she called it a “scintillating scotoma”. I get no pain, a plus. But it sometimes lasts for hours.

  17. I began experiencing these occular migraines in my mid to late 30s, with no pain, but some pressure in the temples after the visual had gone with a slight unwell feeling (queasy).
    No discernible pattern was detected, most occurred from the centre and out to the right of my sight, occasionally to the left.
    Often happening during early afternoon, rarely at night or morning, but I have twice woken up in the morning half way through an episode.

  18. I used to get these with no migraine. Always thought it was an odd thing but harmless. A few years back I got one and got a headache afterwards. Some time later I got another, and a worse headache followed. Now I get the aural hallucination and a splitting migraine follows. Thank goodness for Excedrin.

  19. My episodes are slightly more effective. Starts from the zig zag’s, then about 10 later I have funny sensations on one site of the body.usually it’s opposite site then head ache. They are like pins and nidles.moving gradually from my foot to head, affecting legs, can chest,face, tongue. Then I can’t talk. All takes about 40 min to an hour. May back again after an hour. I started having this migrans since primary school, usually twice or three times in a year. Helps triptans injection at the first stage. Wondered if anyone else got such a migraine.

    1. I used to have severe migraine with visuals, speech loss preceded by butterflies in the stomach this would then be followed with aversion to bright light and vomiting. Lasted for nearly 2 days each time and with a regularity of 6-8 week periods. Luckily this was happening for about 2 years through puberty. I am 48 now and apart for one time since 9quite recently) I haven’t been bothered by such since!!!

  20. I’ve had migraines with the visual aura and vomiting since I was a small child. My mother used to call it a 24 hour virus. That was in the 60’s and doctors did not diagnose children with migraines then. When I get the aura I always get the headache within an hour but sometimes I can head off the severity by taking pain meds right away. Surprisingly, if I can take it as soon as the aura starts Excedrin Migraine will help.
    That diagram looks just like my auras which flashes and swirls and is always on the left. My worst migraines are the ones I wake up with. Those always have the nausea, vomiting, light & sound sensitivity and the feeling that even my hair hurts because the skin on my scalp is so sensitive. I never had anyone who understood that until I met other migraine sufferers. With those I usually have to go to the emergency room for anti-nausea and pain meds.

  21. I literally have to dug myself to sleep when these happen to me. If I stay awake it will be a horrible experience. Im scared just talking about it. I get exstremly I’ll for the rest of the day. The next day feels hossible. I pray for answers from the medical community….

  22. I’ve been getting migraines with aura since about 13. At the time not even heard of and frightened the life out of me. The doctors couldn’t even explain it! Not until about 10 years ago, thanks to the Internet, did I find out exactly what I suffered from. No pain and lasts about 30 minutes then I get a migraine!

    1. I forgot to mention I am now 61 and relieved that I finally found out what they are! Thank you Google! Surprising the medical community hadn’t a clue!

  23. I’m so happy today finding that I’m not only the person who suffers from this trauma. I’ve experienced with auras since i was a child. At firat only auras appear and i didn’t know what they were at age 5 but when i was around 10 i know i was suffering from migraine. This is exactly what they look like .it progresses exactly as he depicated, always from the left side of my vision and begins just how he described. When i started to see the auras which develops into full blown migraine complete with vomiting. At first i saw these auras 1 day before headache starts. Now, i see these auras along with headache, when headache starts i feel like going to die and continuous with vomiting also, as much as i can do vomit it makes me feel relief, now I’m 22. Plz somebody help me get out from this.

  24. I get these – but my query is: My aura appear to start on the right side of my vision, and change as shown in Airy’s drawing above, but mirrored – i.e. the shape is a backwards c by the end. I’m left handed. Do any other righthanders get this final shape and right side start?

    1. I am a lefty and I get the left sided burnt out spot like I’ve been staring at the sun, which grows to a shimmering zig zag spiral/semi circle opening on the right. As it moves to the periphery I get tunnel vision and partial blindness towards the left of both eyes. See it with closed eyes too. Same as the majority. I just had one a few days ago, I usually only get them once or twice a year since age 27. Sometimes I get the headache, sometimes not. I usually get clumsy and fatigued, and a little disoriented, heavy like I’m wearing a lead suit. Sometimes trouble speaking fluently too. I always get panicky because I’m scared it will damage me somehow, or is a stroke. I had a cat scan during a painful one, they said it’s just migraine with aura. If I take full dose of aspirin, 2 shots of espresso/cup of coffee and a Tylenol within the first few minutes of the aura, the headache isn’t too bad or even nonexistent. But usually I will have a pain behind my eyes or in the temples. Even if I evade the headache, my head will hurt for about 36 hours after when I cough or swing my head down quick to pick up something.

  25. Had my first aura migraine around 24. I was at work and it freaked me out because I didn’t know what it was. I would get them once a year until my 30’s where they’d happen maybe 2-3 times a year. The migraine afterwards is the worst! I become extremely sensitive to light, sound and scents. Luckily they haven’t been having as often. I feel like better management of stress, exercise, better diet and surprisingly caffeine all help in keeping it at bay. Hope they find the cause of these..

  26. Amazing to learn about this now as I had no idea this was a thing with a name and that others shared my experience. When I was younger I would see moving geometric patterns that would alternate between sharp forms and rounded forms. The sharp forms had aggressively saturated colors and the rounded forms were pastels. There was a painful tension between the extremes that flowed into a migraine. Don’t know how else to explain it. Thankfully this hasn’t happened in years.

  27. I have had occasional migraines since the age of eight. The headaches used to be accompanied by vomiting but the vomiting ceased as I got older. I started seeing the auras described in the article in my early twenties, usually following intense exercise. I still get the auras very occasionally ( I am now 61) followed by a headache. The headache occurs on the side of my head opposite that from which the aura disappears. On one occasion only I had what I would describe as a “starburst” migraine. This was like a firework display that lasted about twenty minutes.

  28. Really astonishing and amazing that so many people recognize and have these symptoms but not much advance to extinguishing them or knowlege of their after effects is known since 1870! Mine are identical to what is described visually and symptomatically except that I have a shortness of breath that accompanies these attacks immediately following the 20 minute light show. Why is there no more research being done on this condition especially in regards to hemiplegia and stroke prevention?

    1. Google “Canadian Migraine” for some helpful links talking about migraine “triggers” and “thresholds”

  29. This zigzag visual aura is the first sign/symptom for me that a migraine is on its way. I try to take aspirin or usually Advil asap. I carry tablets with me because if I don’t take anything I will get a severe migraine with vomiting, lasting up to several hours. If I can take something in time then my sight returns to normal within 20 minutes or so and I just suffer from a headache. I’ve been getting them on and off since I was 18. I’m 46 now.

  30. Does anyone know what causes the patterns you (maybe?) see with your eyes shut when you close your eyes really tight, or press in your eyes with your eyes shut? I get something similar to this effect but all over, maybe symmetrical, like an intricate abstract rug design.

  31. Yep, it starts with a small dot right in the middle. Then spreads out to the sides like a ripple. I call it “vlimmers”, but they look like looking trough a diamond or a trickle of water. Sometimes I don’t get a headache after that, and then I’m glad it over. The most annoying thing is when it happens at work, where I have to look at a computer screen, or on the road… Luckily it didn’t affect my driving, but it sure was irritating.
    The first time I got those halos I was a bit scared, but my boyfriend also got those before, so he could tell me they would disappear after a while. Now I know how they start, so I can take precautions. Either take some medicine, or go and take a nap when I’m at home…

    1. Meera pointed out something that I had forgotten when I get mine, that they start out as small little crescents like dots, but get larger and larger. Sometimes they accompany headaches, sometimes not. I can almost always associate them with my not eating right on the day of the occurrences as well. A little food and rest helps make them go away. The drawing at the top of this article are very similar to what I see when they happen.


  32. I’ve had these, without pain, since my mid-30s, I’m 57 now. I had to stop flying airplanes because it would block my vision. I get them about once or twice a month and lasting 15-20 minutes per episode. I’m glad to see accurate visualizations of this condition.

  33. Oh thank you for this information It explains why I get those frightening images at times I’m an older person so thought it was just another irritating interruption to my life I’m not so Gueer after all

  34. I get these several times a year, and the illustrations are really good, except that they can’t capture the shimmering movement that goes with it.

    In my reading about neurology, I’ve seen it said that we have some visual circuits that respond to vertical lines, some to horizontal, some to diagonals, some to movement, some to various colors. When I have one of these auras, it’s like every one of those different systems is firing off, all at once. I’m getting every color, every line direction, every kind of movement, all happening in this one spreading arc, all at once.

    No headache afterwards for me, just mild aphasia and an inability to mentally focus for several hours.

  35. I get these on occasion with no migraine but dizziness and vertigo. They last between 30-45 minutes. They usually occur after an intense physical workout. Has anyone else had this occur after working out, intense cardio, or just extreme physical activity ???

  36. I had severe migraines from age 12-19 which always started with a blind spot, then an aura, then numbness of face and even hands on whichever side the headache would then manifest itself. Speaking would be difficult and it took hours to recover. I went o a neurologist. His brain wave scan came out all black because of spasm in the brain. Almost like a tense muscle he said it keeps on contracting and causing headaches. He suggested to minimize coffee intake to 1-2 cups ( this also includes other caffeinated drinks) to take a magnesium/calcium supplement and to stay extremely well hydrated and watch the PH balance of my body. This helped and I was migraine free after I followed his advice. I can agree though that taking a painkiller at the first sign of an aura hinders the migraine from developing.

  37. I have been seeing exactly picture what Hubert Airy see1870. It will starts from a small bright spot, then enlarge until I cover all my vision. Then, it will go around 20 minutes, the disappearing. After that for exactly half an hour, the terrible head ache, like my eyes were going to pop out. It will go around one full hour, then stop. After that, I will feel terrible nausea for the rest of the day.

    This happen only once or twice a year, so I do not bother to go consult any physician. My brother have got migraine, but he did not see the picture. I tried a migraine drug, but it did not help. Then a yoga instructor recommended me ‘ibuprofen’ and it work well especially I take it just right when I start to see the picture. I have been carrying two tabs around with me in a small pill box. This drug safe me, if I take it right away when it started.

    Even I now, I look at the picture, I started to feel nausea already. This is very haunting symptom.

    I am glad that I found this article and I not only person who have got it.

    Thanks so much for writing this article.

  38. I have had migraines exactly as illustrated since I was 17 or 18, aura followed by intense photo-phobia and headache lasting several hours. I initially got one or two per year increasing regularly into my forties when I would get sometimes 4 per week. Now in my early fifties I haven’t had a migraine in well over a year. I find that not eating regularly is a trigger, as is stress. I find that the best way to stop the headache is to take 2 paracetamol and two ibuprofen at the same time. For me the worst part of a migraine is the day after, its like a very bad hangover and usually lingers on for the whole day, leaves me really tired. As I get older they do seem to be much less frequent.

  39. I exactly see this just before migraines. Problem when u drive or work :u dont see well. Many times i had to stop and take a med and wait for it to stop in order to drive or work again.sometimes it stops thks to a strong coffee. But most of the time need med.
    Always starts because of brightness (sun or neon) Or lack of food
    My doc never believed me…now i can tell her its an aura.

  40. I used to get these pretty frequently. Saw a neurologist and he suggested supplementing with magnesium and riboflavin. I haven’t had one since.

  41. I get these and if the light is on the left my headache is on the right. If it goes toward the bottom I get it on the top of my head. I’ve even had the light to to the top and had pain in my jaw.

  42. I have experienced these for years. They seem to be brought on by stress for me. I see the same zigzag bright curved lines. They usually start out small and grow as they move across my line of vision. They can last from 20 min to an hour. Once I had a complete loss of vision for a span of about 2 min. That one scared me pretty bad. I have never experienced any pain with them. I am very thankful for that after reading some of the comments here. It was not until I talked to my sister who was experiencig the same symptoms and was diagnosed with occular migraines that I knew what it was. Now I don’t worry about it except that they are a nuseance when I am at work. I will be trying some of the things mentioned here to lessen them.

  43. I started getting the visuals without the pain in my late thirties. My ophthalmologist referred to them as “phantom migraines”. I get them about three or four times a year, seemingly triggered by nothing at all. They start as a blind spot, then grow into a jagged vibrating neon light looking thing that migrates from one side of my visual field to the other. It takes about 20 minutes to half an hour. They used to bother me, but I’ve gotten used to them and just let them do their thing so I can get on with my life.

  44. Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences here. It’s really fascinating to me that this drawing, made almost 150 years ago, is similar to what so many people see.

  45. I have had them sent I was 30i am 87 now and stil have them onley headache I have is the next day and that is only when I cough the top of my head is sorer and I never know when I will have one

  46. It bothered me last 30 years with headache and vomiting. I knew this was related with migraine about 10 years ago after my doctor told me. In my case, I’m getting this after drink tequila or excessive exercise or lack of food consumption.

  47. I got brightly coloured auras throughout my childhood with no migraine , experienced none in adolescence but had a resurgence in my late 20s of monochromatic white auras which have continued for 3 decades with no migraine as an aftermath but with a slight nauseous numbness . However, I also do suffer from debilitating migraines at other times.

  48. I recognize the pattern! It is exactly what I see when the aura occurs, it just glitters. I get it sometimes moving to the right, sometimes moving to the left.
    It started in my early 30s. It occurs approximately twice a year, but I’ve had quite a lot when I was pregnant (sometimes two or three in one day). They never trigger headaches or migraines.

  49. I also have these migranes with aura. In my case I believe they are triggered by certain foods. I am particullary suspicious on foods involving dough fried in oil. I have remoed these type of foods and will pay attention if it will happen again. In my case, the migrenes with aura are rare.

  50. Mine started in my late 30’s, starts on the right and travels across until all vision is effected and lasts around 20 mins just like a lot of you. Usually afterwards I have nausea and some speech issues, what I haven’t read on here is something I have found happens to me and that is the day before I get this I have a real high, lots of energy, really elated almost… Anyone else experience this? I also find my aura is purely silver flecked like the drawings just no colour at all.

  51. I’ve suffered from migraines since age 5. Always woke with it, never experienced “hallucinations” until my early twenties. Since my forties I have experienced “hallucinations” followed by no headache a handful of times.

    The headaches are blinding, incapacitating and violently painful. I vomit all day finding it nearly impossible to swallow anything even saliva without retching. I’ve tried decades of the next sure cure to no avail. I honestly wish I would die before I experience another.

    1. Mine are usually the same; taking exception or some sort as soon as it starts helps. Only time it doesn’t is when I get the pain down the back of my neck. And does anyone else also get the occasional hallucinatory smell of somethings g burning? Like popcorn or plastic? I get that sometimes right before the auras kick in.

      1. I always seem to smell something burning. It’s a very annoying thing I’ve had all my life. Phantom smells. I have fibromyalgia and I think chemical sensitivities. I don’t remember any worse smells with the aura but I was kind of freaking out about it at the time so I might have forgotten

  52. I’ve had one of these in Junior high when I got hit pretty hard in football practice. I had a painful headache afterwards, and now I know for certain these things are connected! Great article to stumble upon

  53. I have aural indications sometimes – just recently on Friday. Sometimes I get a headache and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s in the back of my head; this time in the front and the sides. I describe mine as such: it looks like the letter c, in a kaleidoscope pattern, that starts small and gets bigger until it covers my whole field of vision. This always happens in my left eye.

  54. I can’t believe how spot on this is. I have suffered from Auric Migraines for several years. Mine usually develop out of no where, but I’ve figured out that bright lights and caffeine seem to trigger them. So naturally no coffee and sunglasses 24/7 for me. Usually starts with the visual then a headache I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I can usually still see through my perifferal vision but straight ahead is gone. I’m out of commission for at least a day. Explaining this was very difficult until now, I’ll be sure to save this article to show the next neurologist I see. Glad I’m not alone

  55. Would be interesting to do a DNA study to see what we have in common. I am carrier for colorblind gene which I’ve been told comes from the Vikings.

    1. You might be right I also have the Viking disease and my son has both too.

      Dupuytren’s contracture (also known as morbus Dupuytren, or Dupuytren’s disease and slang terms “Viking disease” or “Celtic hand), is a fixed flexion contracture of the hand due to a palmar fibromatosis, where the fingers bend towards the palm and cannot be fully extended (straightened).

      1. Is Co-incidence real? I was just diagnosed with Viking’s, read all the way down to your post just couldn’t resist commenting. I started with painful migraine plus aura in my early 20’s. After years of debilitation repeats they are now pain free but the confusion was so bad 2 weeks ago I started a preventative Beta Blocker and a 2nd MRI is coming up. Magnesium intake + hydration has been a thread here and is high in my own mineral + vitamin diet after recommendations from my chiropractor. Powerful drugs made me more ill than better and isn’t it strange how Some have noted their Dr’s knew nothing of this subject. We are our own best researchers and advocates. Keep on Sharing!

        1. I had no idea about the trouble Vikings cause. This explains a lot. As they say, doctors “practice.” Yes , the aoras and migrains run in families. My grandmother’s started when she gave birth and my OBGYN was very careful with me. Mine started 20 years later and the trigger was a bright light in a TV studio. I was told to look into the light. Rushed to the hospital and was correctly diagnosed so it has never cause me to worry.

  56. I experienced a “Scintillating Scotoma” once while I was recovering from a cervical spine discectomy. I thought that I must having a stroke and had the telephone next to me, but it was very beautiful, It had the classic zig-zags and the boiling colors that spread out in a crescent, leaving a a gray void in its wake, which eventually consumed my entire visual field. I thought, “Oh, great. Now I’m blind.” After five or ten minutes, however, the vision slowly filled back in. I never had any feeling of nausea or pain, even though I’ve always been one to get motion sickness rather easily.

    The next day I layed in bed and watched the ceiling spin as if I were very drunk, but without any feelings of nausea. When I tried to sit up, I fell straight over on my side. I also nearly fainted a couple of days later and tried to get to the kitchen phone, but I knew I would fall if I didn’t stop and lie down on the floor. Then my whole body convulsed a couple of times (Myoclonus). Then I was okay after a couple of minutes.

    For the next couple of years, I would see pulsing light, as if I was in a room with a strobe light going, but only at night while I was trying to sleep. Their intensity and frequency declined in a linear manner and now it’s been years since I’ve noticed any.

    I told my surgeon about it and he said that the basilar artery system can have muscle spasms from being manipulated during surgery and that it would clear up.

  57. I started getting these aura followed by intense headache 80% of the time when i was 50. One time it was so bad everthing was a glitter and I couldn’t really see at all. Truly thought I was going blind. Now its more of a jagged circle around the perifery of the vision.The visual sequence lasts about 20-25 minutes every time. It helps if I’m sitting and put my head between my knees for a few minutes which seems to lessen the headache and drink lots of cold water or a beer sometimes helps. Sometimes I get ringing in my ears and then mild disorientation can last a few hours or up to a couple of days. It scared me when it first happened and have seen doctors to no avail. It’s been getting less over the last few years. Lately I can tell it’s accompanied by neck muscle tension so maybe that’s what causes the headache part. Just have to ride it out I guess. Sure is a nasty interruption to a great day

  58. I first experienced migraine with aura at about age 18, at age 56 I read an article in New Scientist indicating that there had been a correlation between migraine aura and a hole in the heart (patent for amen ovale. I followed this up with my physician and he sent me to a cardiologist for tests, sure enough the tests showed I had a 6mm hole in my heart. It’s worth noting that the majority of the population are born with a hole in the heart which closes soon after birth, but there is a relatively high % which dont and for those in which the hole is significant there appears to be a correlation with migraine aura. The hole is effectively a shunt between the input and output of the heart which is normally closed like a flap but which can open under physical stress. Anyway to cut a long story short my cardiologist sent me to see an interventional cardiologist ( at USC in CA) he said he could the hole, couldn’t guarantee that it would fix the migraine aura (since the procedure was still experimental) but he also said more convincingly that the procedure woul considerably reduce the chances of me having a stroke down to low single digits. I asked him to go ahead with the procedure, it was done by inserting a guided probe up my femoral artery into my heart and releasing an umbrella like clamp to seal the hole. This was all done within one day and an overnight stay, painless and straightforward. Prior to having the procedure at age 56 or so I had beef having the aura about once a month for about 30 mins each time. Now at age 66 I get auras sound twice a year. I think perhaps there is some merit in the correlation between aura an PFO, I woul recommend anyone with aura to look into it, if for nothing else the research indicates reduced chance of having a stroke.

  59. A wealth of information here for anyone interested in neural functioning. The comments are fascinating and telling in their correlative accounts.

  60. Después de tantos años, por fin , descubro en la nota, lo que me pasa , le pasa a tanta gente, y es idéntico a lo descripto. Consulte con cardiologos , por si era hipotension y con oftalmologos y todo queda en la nada, ya no me voy a asustar tanto cuando me pase, lo voy a encaminar con un
    neuroftalmo, porque a veces me pasa manejando, y ese punto ciego que antecede al zig zag es horrible.

  61. Hello, I started have this kind of hallucinations when I had aprox. 20 years old, my father had too aprox. at same age, my brothet have it and my daughter too. sometimes occured migranes, light or heavy ones. This year 2016, I had already 4 times, but normally happened 2 or 3 times a year.
    Some of them after going away, transforming your head like being in a black hole, being into another dimension, no migrane.
    I tried to write about the hallucinations, to discovered something regular, that might be the source, the cause, but could not found yet nothings to be appointed as regular. Happened on the beach, without stress, bt sometimes after a long night drinking with friends. There is no pharameter to be appointed. I probably after this years ( I´m 49 ), could only tell you that blood presure may be a cause to that, excess of Sodium , but might be just a theory….

  62. I was classed as “a sickly child” as I was forever laid low with what I now know was migraine. The classic routine was the aura first followed by vomiting and then the crashing headache. I remember being laid down in a darkened room for weeks at a time!! Then in my twenties I was invited to join a trial for a new migraine drug, part of the trial was to record everything that passed my lips, looking for a possible food trigger. It showed quite clearly that oranges were the cause of my migraines! In those days it was not recognised that oranges could trigger migraines but now they are in the list of things to avoid along with chocolate, cheese, nuts and tomatoes to name but a few. Since eliminating anything orange from my diet I’ve not had a migraine headache ( said tongue in cheek with fingers firmly crossed!) but the aura has crept back over the years and appears periodically exactly as described above taking about 30 minutes from start to finish and I can usually think back to the day before when there might have been orange juice in the sauce when we had dinner out for ample. Moral of this story is: The daily advice all those years ago to give the children a daily dose of vitamin C in the form of concentrated orange juice was not such a good idea for some of them! I hope this helps some of you to find a food trigger you so far have not thought about.

  63. hopefully this is the answer you’ve been needing.

    the problems are due to over exposure and saturation of the cones of the eye. its a similar effect as when you have someone take a photo of you using a flash camera and it leaves an after effect image in your vision. the eye cones have been saturated and cannot reduce the stimulated energy level of the cones. the eye maintains and can even increase the level of energy in the eye and this will lead to headaches and persistance of the problem for hours.

    in cases such as described in the article, they are usually due to one eye inadvertantly being exposed to a bright light spot which over stimulates the cones in that eye, and partly due to a low bodily energy level preventing resolution of the problem.

    the solution is to first have some food and drink to refuel the body so it can resolve the problem, which then involves performing a “black balance”.
    to do this you need to shut your eyes and cover them to prevent the admission of any more light into your eyes.

    create a state of complete blackness, you will notice that the visual effect of the problem will usually appear as an arc of linked triangular forms which will expand slowly and move radially away from the centre of vision until finally they will disappear off the side of your vision.

    at that point you will have succeeded in resolving the problem and will hopefully also averted a migraine.

    nb: any over-bright light source can cause the effect, for example you can get it from looking at the element of a lightbulb or you may be getting it off the reflective metal of your prescription glasses (switch to matt plastic frames). if you sit looking in one direction too much ie working at a computer, you may get it from some hot spot in your peripheral vision.

    1. Thank you, Mark Taylor, for your informative response.
      It appears that I suffered from migraines starting at 4-5 yrs. No aura, no pain, just blocked vision, disorientation and nausea.
      Then during my menopause (at my 30 yrs.) migraines reappeared with a vengeance, aura, pain, visual disturbances, nausea, etc. Fortunately, my Dr. had migraines and the best meds were available to me. They worked but I always had to deal with recovery for the next 2 days whether from the migraines or the meds. After a number of years, they lessened in number and intensity.
      Now in my 60’s and diagnosed with a sleep disorder (Sleep Apnea) and an extreme sensitivity to meds and preservatives, I no longer get any migraines with pain but occasionally had auras. I accidentally discovered my cure for those as well. When I see the auras forming, I immediately drink a glass of water or as much as possible. After about 20-30 minutes they disappear!
      So now I have concluded from your comment that migraines are possibly a chemistry imbalance in the brain for whatever reason; food, chemicals, fluid, electrolytes, lights or computers, etc.
      At this moment I am migraine-symptom free. I hope that all of you will find your balance.

  64. O.K. so I just read many of your comments with no mention of the problem that is genetic and runs in my family. We have a syndrome called CADASIL. Look this one up. It often begins with these headaches, and the pain, but we know that the reason for them is the destruction of the white matter of the brain due to loss of blood supply. the muscular part of the blood vessels is weak(genetic mutation) and we wind up with bleeds that destroy the blood supply and cause tissue death. There is no cure.. so our brains die an early death.. sucks! How bad the pain is, and how crazy the visual stimulus depends on where the bleed is. My cousins all have it including one that died at 18. my neices(newly diagnosed at 30) and nephew.. not sure about my kids yet.We all get migraines. My mom died of it and so did her mom.

  65. Yep, the ‘ol Fortification Illusion.

    The first one I had scared the heck
    out of me. I thought something
    blew up in my head!

    Now it’s just that half hour Light Show!

  66. some more details

    at the beginning of the article there is a description of how the effect is first noticed ie “he noticed a small blind spot interfering with his ability to read”. and that it is like “the spot which you see after having looked at the sun or some bright object”

    this is correct because that is what has happened, an area of vision has been over-exposed and is now registering as a blank area.
    this will appear as a blurry section of your vision
    if you blink it will appear as alternately white or black.or perhaps coloured, but it will still be simply a blank spot in your vision

    the culprit (often unknown) will be some object that has focused light down to a small intense spot which overpowered the eyes’ ability to adjust.
    the size and shape of the blank spot will be the result of the size of the area of the light spot that exceeds the threshold level of a group of cones of the eye.
    basically causing a solarization effect where all cones in the section of the eye exposed to the source are over-exposed and now return a (visually) blank signal.

    usually the eye will naturally adjust itself according to the brightness of its surroundings by either increasing or decreasing its sensitivity, but in this case it is trying to do that while some cones are completely saturated and returning a signal equivalent to “full power”.

    the reciprocal chemical “fuel” connection from the eye to the brain is now strained by this workload which is why the situation advances to the point of sickness and pain.

    any light admitted to the eye will now exacerbate the problem which is why people tend to retreat to a dark room to attempt to alleviate the problem and try medicines to replenish the loss of neurochemicals.

  67. I heartily agree that we have an imperfect understanding as to why migraineurs experience transient blindspots (scotomas).
    It is known that staring fixedly at a bright light (don’t try this at home for too long) will induce a scotoma because the retinal cone photopigments are used up and it takes seconds for them to regenerate and allow vision to return to the blindspot.
    The problem is that I have described the creation of a retinal blindspot and to the best of our knowledge migraine doesn’t cause retinal problems. The scotoma of migraine is a brain (or visual cortex problem) as far as we can tell. One theory is that a wave of neuronal depolarization progresses across visual cortex and causes “scintillations” (kind of like sparkles) and as the wave of depolarization passes onward the visual neurons become refractory (“silent”) causing the blindspot. When those neurons regain the capacity to generate action potentials, the blind spot goes away.
    We assume that the visual aura of migraine (Airy’s drawing) is an ocular phenomenon but paradoxically its origin is in the brain.

  68. Oh! This is so interesting! I very recently tried to combine my skills of being an animator with my skills of being a migraine sufferer and attempted to capture my aura too! I completed the film in only a weekend so it’s a little rough and also contains swearing, but if anyone is interested it’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I36P7umDpAw

  69. m also one of the migraine sufferer and always think that m the only one who is sufffering from migraine. i was unable to describe about this aura to any one m suffering from migraine when i was 8yrs

  70. I can bring mine on if I lay down on my stomach a certain way. I guess my spine starts them. But only in a certain position. Lasts 10 minutes approx. No pains. I just have to shut my eyes and roll over and wait. Feel ok afterward actually.

  71. I get the auras, pain, numbness etc. that you all are getting. I am 55 and have been getting them since age 9. I only get them from changes in pressure, when storm systems move through or go to visit Colorado. Any one else experience this?

  72. I’ve had this hallucination once so far, mine was very much like the illustration, but it joined to make an oval type shape. It was very pretty with the zig zag edges that where bright white with sparkling rainbow colours, the whole thing seemed to sparkle like when you’re looking at a jewel and move your head or object to capture different light and colours. It was truly beautiful. I saw this during a strong migraine which I was already a day or two into, what I did find was my migraine started to settle during and after I saw it. I found it a little alarming because this has never happened before and I have had years of debilitating migraines, I was very stressed/distressed at the time about other things. My family wanted me to get checked out by my doctor as they where quite alarmed too when I described it to them, my mum thought I might have a brain tumour. I went to see my doctor and fortunately there was also a trainee gp in with her who specialises in Opthalmology, who instantly told me I had suffered an occular migraine. It came as a relief to hear. At the same time I had developed a large floater in my eye so I went to see my opthalmologist who found nothing wrong and explained that the floater was due to aging. I saw the hallucination through my left eye only which is always the side I have my migraines on.

  73. I started with migraines, with vomiting, and preceded by the visual aura about age 15, but soon learned to take an aspirin and lie down in a dark, quiet room. This almost always helped a great deal. Later, I learned to drink a strong coffee, which also helped to shorten the attack. Now that I am in my seventies, I rarely suffer these headaches.

  74. I’ve had Common Migraines all my life. However, over the past 20 years (I’m n ow 70) they have devolved to be ocular migraines only. I have always seen the aura just prior to the onset of a terrible headache accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It seems that the drug Imitrex is the magic bullet and I no longer use any medications. I now just do my best to ignore the aura and it passes within 30 minutes of onset

  75. I have had ocular migraines since I was a child. In recent years they frequently come in a series over several days, sometimes when tired.The zigzag lights are typically on one side of my field of vision. Sometimes they begin while I am sleeping. They last for 20 minutes and go away quicker if I am able to lie down and close my eyes. Only one time did I have the dramatic “vision” depicted in the drawing. It was as though I was looking into a large hole with ragged edges around the outside. I thought I was losing my vision and saw an ophthalmologist immediately who found nothing wrong. She and neurologist have concluded migraine. My mother and a nephew have had same problem. No headache associate with disturbance although I now have pain in left eye and numbness on left side of face which neurologist says is migraine. I question whether related.

  76. I have experienced this for years. Sometimes multicolored and sometimes silver. No pain follows. This has occurred since my gunshot wound to the left temporal. Much gratitude for this article.

  77. Interesting and very helpful article and followed by helpful comments from others that will be saved and referred to when time permits. Migraine misery loves company? Thanks Nat’l Geo

  78. I’ve been experiencing these since early high school. For me they usually occur right after a high stress experience (i.e. final exams, sports team tryout, the day after my wedding, etc. They last approx. 30 minutes and just drift away. About 20 % of the time, a headache begins when the visual effects disappear. The headaches usually last about an hour but not more that two hours. I do not usually suffer from nausea. Once over, there are no lasting effects. They trigger a level of fear and apprehension as they start. The more I have experienced them, the less apprehension I have.

  79. Almost 5 years ago, I noted very similar visual symptoms as Hubert Airy’s drawing. (I was about 70 at the time.) The effect looked like a string of fluttering triangular shaped flags similar to those often used at car dealerships to attract attention. The visual effects, although clearly within my field of view, have always been just outside of the central region of highest resolution such that I was unable to get a clear and focused look at them. During the worst episodes, I noted areas where I had partial loss of vision sometimes within the center of my vision.

    I went to my ophthalmologist about them; and he referred me to a retina specialist who referred me to a neurologist who did a brain scan. Nothing was detected so he diagnosed the malady as an optical migraine; but indicated that no one knows what causes them or what to do about them. He did say that they apparently are not a symptom of something worse than the brief visual effect.

    About 30 years ago, I occasionally had severe, debilitating migraine headaches which were surprisingly cured permanently by a physical therapist using alternating hot and cold compresses on my neck and shoulders along with massage (both neck, back and feet). The neurologist said that the optical migraines are so named because of similarities in the brain when either they or the migraine headaches occur.

    I have tried to associate these sporadic episodes with food or physical activity without success. I had some incredible salty chips a few months ago and within 45 minutes experienced the most severe episode ever so I thought salt might be the culprit. Several later attempts to recreate the effect were unsuccessful though.

    So I most appreciate hearing about the experiences of others and their thoughts about the possible causes. I thought I was the Lone Ranger.

  80. I’d say that a migraine aura is not exactly an hallucination, but an image superimposed on the usual images of sight. By the way, the image shown, mainly in gray scale color, lacks the rich iridescent colors a migraine aura has.

  81. I’m 73 years old. My first aura occurred in my mid-twenties but was not followed by a migraine. The zigzag, vibrating lines began as a point, then slowly expanded to form a crescent shape that grew larger until it expanded beyond the periphery of my vision. My friends had no idea what I was talking about and neither did our family doctor. I continued having them with minor variation in the pattern until the present, except that for the last two or three years the auras have been followed by migraines. Now, as soon as I have an aura I use a Maxalt which seems to lessen the impact of the migraine.

  82. Have had migraines sans auras and with. Have had occular migraines sans headache. The bad headache migraines lasted through most the decade of my 20s into early 30s. And then abruptly departed. They began before I was married or even had met my husband, but when we separated and I had to get serious about supporting myself, they disappeared. I’ve never been able to decide whether that was a causal relationship or not. Sometimes have wondered if maybe the headaches weren’t actually TMJ.

    What I notice in these drawings –besides the jagged lines–are the colors: four, same, 3 primaries +green. Same no. as genetic code: ACGT. Different proportions btw. Airey and Babinski drawings (my eldest brother exhibited signs of a positive Babinski, not that has much to do with this story–just that I hadn’t known Babinski was a migraineur).

    As to the occular migraines I’ve had–usually occurring after too much late night computer screen viewing–the colors are shades of grey and otherwise like a long-ago LSD flashback–no headache, but rather exhausting, keeping me awake–partly out of fascination. The more curious aspect is that they always begin with my being able to “see” everything in the room in shades of grey/blue and greenish grey–including my hand in front of my face–with my eyes shut–excepting for any lights, like the little digital lights such as power on/off indicator on radio or clock. I learned finally, that if I “look” at the clock, say, and can’t see the light, I’m having a hallucination. But it’s been at least 3 yrs. since I’ve experienced an occular migraine.

  83. When I got migraines, from my teens until my forties, Light hurt terribly, but I did not see auras. In my sixties and seventies I no longer get migraines, but occasionally prismatic colors which start as a small arc at my edge of vision, grow to surround my whole field. Resting usually ends them after twenty minutes or so.

  84. I had the first one while I was driving, and it really scared me. I thought I was going blind. It went
    away on its own in about a half an hour. i’ve had them for more than twenty five years, but there is never any pain associated with them. I believe that in almost all of the instances when they have occurred they were brought on by psychological stress. A lot of therapy has helped me deal with
    the stress in my life, and so far in the past two or three years the auras have almost totally vanished.
    Many years prior to experiencing the auras I did have a full fledged migraine, and I remember it as being very, very painful. I’ve been very lucky because that’s the only one I’ve ever had.

  85. I get these now and then, but they are almost always b&w, and the odd thing is, that when the zig-zag area forms, quite often the interior of said zig-zag is a geometric pattern, checkerboard or some such. But, the geometric pattern is often in extreme focus. Not always, but most of the time.

  86. The drawing is spot on!!! Amazing. I have had migraines since I was 8 (after polio vaccine). Both my father and his mother had them. but the early migraines were the complete throwing up hypersensitive to sound and light ones. Post menopause, these became fewer and I began to have ocular migraines, as my doctor called them. The dancing zigzag lights would take over a portion of the visual field, usually about a third to a half, coming on gradually and lasting about 45 minutes after which I had a dull headache and felt sluggish for about 24 hours. The visual disruption was bad enough that I had to pull over if driving and could not read anything. It was in both eyes (I checked as it fit the description of a detached retina which my father experienced). These ocular migraines were way worse when I was living in CA (vs OH) on a fault line. The only thing I could ever correlate them with was solar flares. They did not correlate with any food or chemical exposure nor did they follow stress. Once back in OH, they are almost completely gone–less than one a year. So I suspect that there may be a sensitivity to very low frequency EM field fluctuation involved. But it is wonderful to see that I am not alone! No one else in my circle has them and all think I am a bit nuts.

  87. Perfect description by Mr. Airy’s 1870 diagram. I turned 81 in 2016 and started having them in about the year 2000 at the rate of two a day and has progressed to about four a year. My optometrist says they are ocular migraines. I know one is starting when I am reading and a printed letter or two disappear from view.

  88. I got those too when I was 15. Doctor diagnosed it was Classical Migraine. It started with a black spot and same zigzag lines. It lasted for 20-30 minutes with a serious headache. And it ended with vomiting. Now its all fine.

  89. The first eye migraine (no pain; no headache) I got scared the hell out of me. Now they’re just an annoyance. Starts with a small blurry spot; then the white jagged line. The line expands in a circular shape until it forms a complete circle and then goes away. I haven’t been able to detect/identify a trigger. I will have several in a relatively short period of time and then none for a long time.

  90. Ditto to many. I’ve had these occasionally for years when a certain intense light catches my eye at an angle. Scintillating spectral color in a zig zag pattern that effectively partially blocks vision for a period of time. Usually lasts 30-45 minutes. An annoyance more than anything else. No pain associated with it. I’m 49. years old with recurring intermittent posterior/anterior Uveitis (since age 12)

  91. I get these and then it is followed by a bad headache. I am most interested in getting rid of the spots ASAP as vision is affected so I take 4 aspirin and they do the trick, less than 4 does not work. Been getting them since high school, in sixties now. Usually occurs if I go from bright to dark and back to bright or get flashed by a bright light. Used to weld and that would sometimes bring them on. Seems diet might be an issue as well, too much A vitamin food seems to increase frequency. They are not debilitating like some people get and I don’t get sick it is just an annoyance.

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