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The Connection Between Headaches and Eyes | Long Island Eye Doctor

The Connection Between Headaches and Eyes
Dr. Amy Chang
  • On January 31, 2014

First, it may be useful to go over the different time of headaches.  Many people use the terms headache and migrainBraine interchangeably, but there are importance differences.

The two most common forms of headaches are tension type and migraine.  These are under the category of “Primary Headaches” which means that it exists independent from any other medical condition, as opposed to a headache is a result of neck trauma (as an example)

Tension-type headache is the most common and it is usually a dull ache/pressure experienced on both sides of the head and is accompanied by neck tightness.  Since tension headaches are related to stress, this includes visual stress.  If you experience headaches as described above when using the computer, reading for a period of time, or other visually demanding tasks, the vision can be the culprit.  Often times there is an eye focusing problems that is causing the visual stress and an eye exam (especially with a developmental or neuro-optometrist) will usually identify the problem as well as a solution.  It is also common for people with visual stress induced tension headaches to feel pressure behind their eyes.




Migraine headaches on the other hand is less common, and tends to be more common in females, and usually start between the ages of 15-24.  Migraines typically affect one side of head, and is described as a sharp stabbing pain, is usually accompanied by light and sound sensitivity, and worsens with physical exercise.  Migraines are caused by the release of inflammatory substances released instead the brain, and may often have “triggers” such as certain foods and drinks.   Some migraine sufferers have a visual phenomenon that occurs before the onset of their headache.  It is usually described as bright flashing dots, way lines that start in the peripheral vision, and slowly goes to the center, it usually lasts about 30 minutes.  The cause for this phenomenon is in the brain.  The inflammatory substances that are released in the brain usually start at the back of the head, the occiput, which is where your visual cortex is located!

Migraine headaches are less likely caused by visual stress, since it is considered to be an inflammatory response resulting in vascular (blood vessel) changes in the brain.  That being said,  there does seem to be a higher prevalence of eye coordination problems in these patients.  There haven’t been any research done in this area yet, but I do believe that must be some disruption that occurs  to the eye coordination pathways of the brain, in patients with chronic migraines.  So although the visual stress is not usually a migraine trigger,  treatment of any eye coordination issues will significantly improve the person’s visual ability.

My advice to those that are experiencing what sounds like  migraine or  frequent tension-type headaches(more than 8 occurences a month).  Make an appointment with your primary care physician, and if necessary they will refer you to a neurologist.  Secondly, schedule an appointment with a neuro-optometrist ,  this is the best way to find relief from these symptoms, and most often we can make a major difference!

Amy Chang, OD, FAAO


Optix Family Eye care

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