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

Are computers bad for my child’s eyes?

This is a question that patients often ask me. Sometimes parents hint that they want me to tell their kids to stay off the computer/tablet/smartphone and others just really want to know how much is too much.  The fact of the matter is this: technology is not going to go away. It is everywhere. We do want our kids to be tech savvy and take advantage of all of the great learning experiences that technology offers, don’t we? We just need to be smart about it.

Courtesy of Paul Mayne on Flickr

Courtesy of Paul Mayne on Flickr

Using too much technology at a near point can have several negative effects on the body and on the visual system.  Kids who spend a lot of time in front of their devices, are less active physically and can have difficulty with posture.  We know that childhood obesity and diabetes is on the rise. One way to combat these diseases is to keep our children active, which means less time in front of the computer.

Computer vision syndrome is not a term that only applies to adults.  Symptoms such as eye fatigue, blurry vision, red eyes, headache and difficulty shifting focus to objects at a distance after computer use can also affect kids.  When focusing is fixed at a certain object in space for a long time, a child’s developing visual system does not get the benefit of practicing how to focus at different distances. This can cause persistent  problems with clarity of vision and possibly reading problems.

So how much is too much? A rule of thumb I usually give my patients is if school-aged children use the computer for schoolwork or for recreation, they should be on it for no more than 40 minutes without a break. By break, I mean at least 5 minutes away from the desk – getting up, looking outside, getting a drink of water and moving around.  For younger kids, try no more than 20 minutes per day. In fact, keep younger kids off electronic devices as much as possible. Encourage more free play, book reading and imagination. Try to use the technology only as needed or as a reward, not as a given or expected everyday activity.

There will be plenty of time to use technology as they get older. As I said, it is not going to go away!

Courtesy of sean dreilinger on Flickr

Courtesy of sean dreilinger on Flickr

In the meantime, do what you can to make computer use safe. Make sure children have annual comprehensive eye examinations to make sure their eyes are not being adversely affected by computer use.  Make sure the computer station is set up ergonomically for your child. The monitor should be slightly below eye level and a foot stool should be used to prevent dangling feet. Minimize glare on the computer by using glare filters and by positioning the computer away from windows as much as possible. These suggestions will help with healthy computer use for our children.

~Lisa Weiss, OD