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Vision and Headache

How A Headache Can Affect Your Eyes and Vision

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Updated September 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Have you ever had a headache that affected your vision? Sometimes a headache can cause pain around your eyes, even though the headache is not associated with a vision problem. A headache can sometimes be a sign that your eyes are changing and that it may be time to schedule an eye exam. Although headaches can often be attributed to the ways in which we use our eyes, a severe headache should always be taken seriously. The following conditions that often trigger a headache can be associated with your eyes and vision.

  • Migraine Headache A migraine headache can cause intense pain in and around your eyes. A migraine aura resembling flashing lights, a prismatic rainbow of lights or a zig-zag pattern of shimmering lights often precedes the actual headache. The aura typically last around 20 minutes. Some patients who experience the aura never develop the headache afterward.

    Migraines can also cause tingling or numbness of the skin. People with severe migraines also have nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. Medications, certain foods, smells, loud noises and bright lights can all trigger a migraine headache.

  • Cluster Headache Cluster headaches are severe headaches associated with pain around the eye that appears in patterns or clusters. The pain may radiate down the neck to include the shoulder. Cluster headaches may occur daily for several months at a time. People who experience cluster headaches tend to have them a couple times per year and then they may disappear totally for a long period of time. It is not known exactly what causes cluster headaches but they are considered one of the most severe headaches to experience.

    Additional symptoms of cluster headaches include the following:

    • Tearing
    • Nasal drainage
    • Red eyes
    • Eyelid droop
    • Changes in pupil size


  • Eye Strain Simply overusing the focusing muscles of your eyes can cause eye strain, which often results in a headache. Our high tech world has improved our lives considerably, but small-screen texting and web browsing often causes strain on our eyes. Words and images on a computer screen do not have well-defined edges, as they are made up of several small dots, or pixels. The eyes cannot easily focus on pixels, so they must work harder to see the computer screen clearly. When the eye muscles become fatigued, a headache often develops around or behind the eyes.

  • Farsightedness Adults and children with uncorrected farsightedness often complain of a frontal headaches or a brow ache. If you are farsighted, you may find it difficult to focus on nearby objects and may feel eye strain, pain around the eyes, or a headache around the forehead. Headaches often occur because you are able to compensate for your farsightedness by subconsciously focusing harder.

  • Presbyopia Around the age of 40, people begin to find it difficult to focus on nearby objects. Near point activities, such as reading, are often blurry. This is an unavoidable condition known as presbyopia and affects everyone at some point. Headaches often result due to trying to compensate for the lack of focusing power.

  • Giant Cell Arteritis Also known as temporal arteritis, giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an inflammation of the lining of the arteries that run along the temple. GCA usually creates a headache that causes a constant, throbbing pain in the temples. Vision symptoms often occur because of a loss of blood supply to the optic nerve and retina. GCA is considered a medical emergency. If left untreated, the condition may cause vision loss in both eyes.
      Additional symptoms of GCA:
    • Fever, fatigue and muscle aches
    • Scalp tendernous
    • Pain while chewing
    • Decreased vision


  • Acute Angle-closure Glaucoma Acute angle closure glaucoma is a rare type of glaucoma that causes a sudden onset of symptoms including headache. Eye pressure rises quickly in acute angle closure glaucoma causing the following:
    • Increased eye redness
    • Eye pain
    • Cloudy vision
    • Mid-dilated pupil


  • Ocular Ischemic Syndrome Ocular ischemic syndrome is a condition that develops due to chronic lack of blood flow to the eye. This condition often causes a headache and decreased vision. People with ocular ischemic syndrome often have a host of other signs such as cataracts, glaucoma, iris neovascularization (new weak blood vessels in the iris), retinal hemorrhages and white spots on the retina indicating lack of blood flow and oxygen to the tissue.

  • Herpes Zoster Also known as shingles, herpes zoster is known for causing headache, vision changes and severe pain around the head and eye. Herpes zoster is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus and affects a single side of the body. A headache usually precedes an outbreak of painful skin blisters.

  • Pseudotumor Cerebri Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition that occurs when the pressure within the skull, or intracranial pressure, increases in the absence of any clear identifiable cause by neuroimaging or other evaluation. For this reason psedotumor cerebri is also referred to Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. Pseudotumor cerebri often causes a headache and hard to explain changes in vision. Left untreated, pseudotumor can lead to vision loss.

Source:

Cullom, Douglas R, Benjamin Chang, Mark A Friedberg and Christopher Rapuano. The Wills Eye Manual, Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease. J.B. Lippincott Company, 2004.

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