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General Medical Questions
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Question : Before the start of a migraine attack, I see balls or circles of transparent light. Is this a common symptom?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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February 04, 2014
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Yes, it’s common for vision to be affected at the start of a migraine attack. In fact, vision changes are the most commonly described aura. An aura is a symptom or set of symptoms that happen just before a migraine headache. People who experience this are said to have migraine with aura.

Auras tend to last 5 to 20 minutes, followed soon after by the headache. Some people with migraines get the aura with little or no headache afterward.

The symptoms of an aura often differ from one person to the next. But each person tends to have his or her own aura symptoms. When an aura happens, it usually feels the same as the ones that happened before.

Here are some ways people describe their auras:

  • Zigzag visual patterns
  • Flashing lights
  • Blind spots
  • Visual hallucinations

An aura is a warning sign that a headache is likely to follow. If you haven't already, ask your doctor what you should take when an aura starts. This is called abortive therapy because it can stop the headache from coming on, or at least help make it less painful.

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