The pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels and nearby nerves. But is your headache stemming from vision? Is it a tension headache or perhaps it is hormone related? Headaches that wake you up at night or begin first thing in the morning are usually not eye-related. Pain in and around the eye usually reflects referred pain from headache. “Referred pain” is a pain that radiates from its original location to another area.
Headaches are a complex and common patient complaint for all Optometrists. A comprehensive eye exam can highlight a variety of eye-related issues that may be causing headaches. Here are a few considerations:
Poor focusing can cause eyestrain. The lens and the cornea are two main eye structures responsible for focusing images on the retina. Eyestrain can also occur if muscles of the eye need to work harder. There are a few eye conditions that are important to consider:
Astigmatism is the result of an irregularly shaped cornea and causes objects to appear blurry. People with astigmatism squint and constantly adjust their focus to see and this can contribute to the onset of headaches.
This is also known as Hyperopia. People who are long-sighted have to focus at all times in order to see clearly. This constant need to compensate and accommodate to see clearly leads to eyestrain and headaches.
The focusing lens of the eye hardens with age and when not corrected for with spectacles, this leads blurry near vision, sore eyes and headaches.
Eyestrain can also be caused by poor binocular alignment. This means that the two eyes do not work together comfortably. A comprehensive eye exam involves the assessment of vision as well as eye alignment. Binocular vision difficulties can be remedied with spectacles and/or vision therapy.
Computer monitors and smartphones are a common cause of eyestrain and headaches. Digital screens cause more headaches than a printed page due to the sheer amount of time we spend looking at these devices. The near range of these devices and the necessity to focus the eyes at this short distance and for prolonged periods of time causes significant eye fatigue and headaches. Poor contrast between background and foreground as well as glare and screen reflections are also to blame.
Ocular migraine sufferers can experience vision loss or blindness in one eye for short periods of time, usually less than an hour. Migraine attacks may cause an aura, which involves flashing lights and blind spots.
If you have suffered with these symptoms, it is crucial that you have a comprehensive eye exam to rule out other serious conditions that have similar symptoms.
Headaches with serious implications: Glaucoma & Papilledema
Headaches and also be triggered by something more serious such as Glaucoma or Papilledema.
Glaucoma causes increased pressure in the eye leading to damage to the optic nerve. If undetected, glaucoma leads to vision loss because the optic nerve carries information from the eye to the brain. Most of the time, Glaucoma has no symptoms at all. When eye pressure is severely elevated, headache is accompanied by blurry vision. Glaucoma is usually a ‘silent condition’. This is why annual eye exams are important.
Papilledema is the swelling of the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The optic nerve is connected to the brain. If there is swelling, pressure or bleeding within the brain, the optic nerve will swell and this will be accompanied by severe headache and sometimes, blurred vision.
If you are experiencing frequent headaches and it has been more than a year since your last eye exam, it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper into the underlying causes and contact your optometrist. If you already wear glasses, you may just need a new prescription. Your optometrist should be able to identify the problem and assist you to take the appropriate steps to have you seeing clearly and headache-free.
All content within this column is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor, optometrist or any other health care professional. Eyetek Optometrists are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this site. Eyetek Optometrists is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor does it endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own optometrist if you're in any way concerned about your health.