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Headaches, Migraines, and My Eyes

Canberra optometrists regularly encounter patients reporting concerns with headaches. Considering that your eyes are housed within your head, headaches are often experienced around the eye area and can often come on after reading or other visual tasks, this is no surprise. However, the relationship between eyes and headaches or migraines can often be a little more complex than one might expect.

Headaches cause vision issues.

There are different types of headaches. Understanding and managing headaches and migraines can be a special area of interest for a number of healthcare professionals, such as neurologists or physiotherapists.

The most common headaches that are associated with visual disturbances are migraines and cluster headaches.1

  • Migraines: These are intense headaches that are often associated with other symptoms such as general malaise, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to stimulation such as lights or noise.1,2 Visual symptoms of a migraine may precede the actual head pain – this is termed a visual aura and is often described as the sensation of tunnel vision, seeing zigzagging, shimmering, or flashing coloured lights,1 or like looking through a kaleidoscope. Your vision may also become blurry. Some cases of migraine, called a visual migraine or retinal migraine, present as only the visual symptoms without the headache.
  • Cluster headache: As the name suggests, cluster headaches occur in clusters, for example, every day for several months, then disappear for months or years before the next cluster. Ocular and visual symptoms of cluster headaches can include watery, red eyes, drooping eyelids, and changes to pupil size.1

Vision issues can cause headaches.

Studies have shown that uncorrected refractive error, that is, not wearing the right (or any) glasses or contacts when you need them can be associated with headache,3 mainly through eyestrain. The link between uncorrected refractive error and migraine is a little more controversial but there is some suggestion that there is an association with uncorrected astigmatism and differences in prescription between the eyes.4

Risk factors for headaches due to refractive error include3

  • Prolonged screen-time
  • Having more than one type of refractive error
  • Moderate long-sightedness
  • Astigmatism

Even if you don’t typically need glasses, eyestrain can also arise from overusing your eyes, such as excessive reading, screen-time, or focusing on close detail for too long without a break. This causes the muscles of your eyes to work in overtime, which results in fatigue, strain, and headache. Eyestrain headaches are often felt around the temples or the brow.

In addition to eyestrain, certain eye diseases are associated with headache as a symptom. These include:1

  • Acute angle closure glaucoma, involving a sudden spiking of the pressure inside your eye.
  • Ocular ischaemic syndrome, which occurs due to chronic poor blood flow to the eye.

Other things entirely can cause both headaches and vision issues.

There are a number of conditions not directly related to the eyes that can result in both visual symptoms and headaches. These include:

  • Temporal arteritis. This is a medical emergency involving inflammation of the arteries around your temple. You may notice a deterioration to your vision and throbbing ache on one side of the head.
  • Intracranial hypertension. Also known as pseudotumor cerebri, this refers to raised pressure inside the skull, which can result in a dull headache at the back of the head, worse at night or in the morning on waking. Visual symptoms include blurring and double vision.5

If you are experiencing unusual headaches, it’s always worth a visit to your Canberra optometrist to rule out visual or ocular causes, even if you don’t think they’re related. Call Junic Eye Care today on 02 6152 8585 to book your appointment.

References

  1. Verywell Health. Headaches and Your Vision. https://www.verywellhealth.com/. 2022. Available at: https://www.verywellhealth.com/vision-and-headache-3422017. (Accessed February 2023).
  2. Healthdirect. Migraine. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/. 2021. Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/migraine#symptoms. (Accessed February 2023).

Author: Juliet Menakaya, O.D MPH

CANBERRA OPTOMETRIST Juliet obtained her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria in 2006. She completed an internship programme before migrating to Australia, where she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Sydney in 2014. Following this, Juliet obtained a Master of Orthoptics from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2017. Juliet has completed her competency in optometry examination with OCANZ (Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand), and obtained her ophthalmic prescribing rights from ACO (Australian College Of Optometry Victoria). Juliet has worked in various positions, including retail Optometry, the Ophthalmology Department at Canberra Hospital, and more recently, at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU). As a dedicated Canberra optometrist, Juliet is passionate about helping people with low vision, and binocular vision anomalies hence her interests in Low Vision Rehabilitation, Eccentric Viewing Training and Paediatric optometry.