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Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

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A professional-looking woman sits at a desk in front of a laptop. She closes her eyes and touches her forehead with her left hand as if experiencing a headache.

Dry eyes and headaches are common unwelcome symptoms that can occur together. Sometimes, dry eyes and headaches can share the same triggers. But currently, there is no conclusive evidence that dry eyes cause headaches. 

For relief from the discomfort of dry eye symptoms, consider booking an eye exam to determine the underlying cause and learn about your treatment options. 

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye syndrome
 occurs when the eyes fail to produce adequate amounts of tears or when those tears evaporate too quickly. Both are caused by a disruption in the tear film.

A balanced tear film has water, oil, and mucous that protects the eye, lubricates it, and prevents tears from evaporating. However, insufficient tears or tears lacking a component can lead to an unstable tear film and, consequently, dry eyes. 

Other causes of dry eyes can include:

  • Aging
  • Hormonal changes
  • UV exposure
  • Environmental conditions, such as exposure to air pollution, wind, or low humidity
  • Infrequent blinking
  • Medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritisthyroid disease, and Parkinson’s disease
  • Medications, such as antidepressants and antihistamines
  • Genetics and family history

Symptoms of dry eye
 can manifest through various discomforts, including:

  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Grittiness or scratchiness
  • The feeling of something foreign in the eye
  • Excessive tearing 
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue

Headaches & Your Eyes

People who experience headaches have pain in the head, but they can also cause vision-related symptoms. Migraines can cause light sensitivity and unusual vision sensations. Cluster headaches can cause pain in or behind 1 eye. 

The Connection Between Dry Eye & Headaches

While there is no conclusive evidence to show dry eye causes headaches or one is a symptom of the other, some studies suggest a possible connection between dry eyes and migraines. 

 show that:

  • Around 14% of people with migraine headaches also reported a dry eye diagnosis.
  • 22% of people who experienced migraine headaches reported dry eye symptoms.
  • People who experienced migraine headaches were more likely to have a diagnosis of dry eye compared to those who did not have migraine headaches. 

While more research is needed to connect dry eyes and headaches, some common links between dry eyes and headaches include the following: 

  • Inflammation may be a potential common denominator. 
  • Eye strain: Eye strain from long stretches in front of screens, characterized as near work, can lead to dry eyes. People may experience eye strain and headaches from muscle tension and neck pain when using a computer for many hours. 
  • Sjögren’s syndrome: This is an autoimmune condition where the body mistakenly targets its own tissue and presents with dry eyes and headaches.
  • Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches, characterized by pain on one side of the head with eye-related symptoms, can be mistaken for dry eyes. Symptoms of a cluster headache include pain or a stabbing sensation in or behind 1 eye.
  • Medication: Some prescription medications, such as acne medicines, can cause dry eyes and headaches. 

People can experience headaches before the eyes feel dry, at the same time as they experience dry eyes, or after having dry eyes for a while. Whether the headache precedes, coincides with, or follows dry eyes, visit your eye doctor at MEye Health to understand the underlying cause.

Close-up of a humidifier on a desk. In the blurred background, a woman sits and works at a laptop.

Management & Treatment for Dry Eyes

Since there is no direct link between dry eyes and headaches, treating one condition may not alleviate the other. However, treatment involving a multifaceted approach can help prevent dry eyes. 

Some treatment options for dry eyes include:

  • Over-the-counter preservative-free eye drops or artificial tears
  • Eyelid cleaners
  • Warm compresses
  • Meibomian gland expression with debridement
  • BlephEx
  • Intense pulsed light (IPL)
  • Radiofrequency
  • Eye nutrition

Treatment for Headaches

If you experience regular headaches, keeping a journal of your symptoms and triggers can help you avoid triggers and prevent headaches. See a healthcare professional if you experience headaches, as there can be many underlying causes. 

You can also treat headaches with the following:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Stretching to relieve tension headaches

Dry Eye Therapy for Symptom Relief

While the precise mechanisms linking dry eyes and headaches remain elusive, the overlap between these seemingly unrelated issues is apparent. 

If you’re concerned about your symptoms of dry eyes and headaches and how they are affecting your quality of life, book an appointment for a dry eye evaluation with MEye Health. With a proper diagnosis and treatment plan that can include at-home and in-office techniques, our eye doctors can help you alleviate the discomfort of dry eyes. 

Written by
Dr. Kalpna Varshney

More Articles By
Dr. Kalpna Varshney

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