Eye-related headaches: the cause and effect

Headaches are no fun and are often debilitating and unnerving.  Many of us have experienced at least one episode of a headache in our life time.  Some of us unfortunately experience weekly if not daily headaches.  This just shouldn’t be.  Some headaches come and go while others seem to get worse and worse.  A knee jerk reaction in all of us is to reach for that bottle of headache pain reliever that we conveniently store in our home medicine cabinet.  While this may temporarily relieve whatever headache type we may be feeling, this may not always be the best treatment choice.

Courtesy of Brandon Koger on Flickr

Courtesy of Brandon Koger on Flickr

Did you know that the root cause of many headaches stem from eye-related conditions?  Doctors of optometry routinely address headache concerns, evaluate for eye-related causes of headaches, and prescribe an appropriate course of treatment or further necessary testing.

How can you ready yourself for an appointment with your optometrist?  Be prepared to answer the following 10 questions that your optometrist will likely ask of you regarding your headache.

  1. When did your headaches begin?
  2. How often do you get these headaches?
  3. How long do they last?
  4. Where specifically is the headache?
  5. Describe the nature of the headache?
  6. How intense is the headache on a scale of 1 to 10?
  7. Is there anything you do to make the headache worse?
  8. Is there anything you do to make the headache better?
  9. What medications are you currently taking?
  10. Do you have a family member that also suffers from headaches?

Your optometrist will perform a battery of selected in office tests to determine if your headache may be caused by an eye-related source or from some other bodily origin.  Common eye-related headache conditions that your doctor of optometry may consider include but not limited to:

● Uncorrected or undercorrected hyperopia (farsightedness)

● Uncorrected or undercorrected presbyopia

● Accommodative spasm or dysfunction (focusing problems)

● Vergence disorders (eye teaming problems)

● Uveitis (inflammation of the eye)

● Intermittent angle closure glaucoma (acute raise in eye pressure)

Cause and Effect

Uncorrected or undercorrected hyperopia or presbyopia, and accommodative disorders all put an undue amount of stress on the overall focusing system of the eye causing the patient to experience blurry vision and headaches .  When the two eyes do not work in concert in the case of vergence disorders, it wreaks havoc with the muscles in each eye and in how vision is ultimately perceived and processed.  This can also provoke a headache to come on.  If an eye becomes inflamed in uveitis, specific muscles in the eye goes into spasm creating light sensitivity, tearing, eye pain, browache, and headaches.  And last, when the drainage system of the eye intermittently impends the flow of fluids out of the eye with that of intermittent angle closure glaucoma, the eye pressure may acutely spiral up triggering a subsequent browache and headache.

If your optometrist determines that your current headache is not eye related, he or she will recommended that you seek further evaluation and care from your primary care physician if the patient has/is…

● Sudden, abrupt, or split-Second

● New headache sufferer without a previous history

● Progressive headache especially in individuals over 50 years of age

● Long standing headaches sufferer, but the headaches have evolved in its frequency, severity, or nature

Or if the headache is accompanied by…

● Fever, weight loss, night sweats

● Other concurrent health conditions such as cancer and HIV

● Neurologic symptoms such as confusion, impaired alertness / consciousness

A doctor’s order:  Don’t go another day with a nagging headache. Go see your optometrist to get relief, today!

~Judy Tong, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association

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