Headaches can have a multitude of causes and triggers, but eyestrain and vision problems are a major contributing factor for many people.
Headaches are one of the most prevalent reasons – besides visual complaints – patients schedule eye exams with us. It is also a very common reason parents bring their children for eye exams.
Every patient and every headache is different, but narrowing down the cause is much easier for some than for others. I have some patients that start getting headaches every time they have a prescription change.
Others get headaches after 15 to 30 minutes of sitting down to read a book.
The hardest, however, are those who cannot identify any pattern to their headaches. From posture to dehydration to blood pressure, almost any system imbalance in the body can be a factor.
A typical eyestrain-related headache typically starts as an ache around the eyebrows and-or across the forehead after a period of visual stress.
For some people this can start early in the day when working at the computer. This is so common that we created a name for it – “digital eyestrain.”
Others will get a headache after a long drive, during which they are squinting to read road signs.
Besides updating glasses prescriptions, there are other tints, coatings, and lens designs to help alleviate eyestrain.
Eyestrain is not the only ocular condition that can cause a headache. Ocular health concerns like uveitis and elevated eye pressure can also cause an ache around the eye that creates a headache. Uveitis is an inflammation of the pigmented structures inside the eye.
Sometimes this can be secondary to another autoimmune disease elsewhere in the body, and uveitis always requires treatment with steroid eye drops.
Ocular hypertension (high eye pressure) rarely causes a headache, but it is another possibility. A normal intraocular pressure is anywhere from 10 to 22. You generally will not feel pain or aching from a high eye pressure until it reaches close to 40.
Often times, determining the cause of recurrent headaches becomes a process of elimination. Sometimes it’s as easy as drinking more water, changing your desk chair, or getting a new pair of glasses. On occasion, it can be something more dangerous.
Most frustrating of all are the times when no one can identify a cause of the headaches, and this is also not uncommon.
(Maybe we all just need a long weekend spa getaway before the holidays to relax and de-stress.)
Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.