Is There a Link Between Dry Eyes and Migraines?

migraine headache
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There may be a connection between your migraines and your dry eyes, meaning that it may not just be a coincidence that you suffer from both. In fact, research suggests that migraine attacks may be longer and more severe in people with dry eye disease versus those without dry eyes.

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease is a complex disease, involving impaired tear function, as well as eye surface abnormalities. It generally stems from either increased water loss from the surface of the eye or decreased tear production.

The potential risks of having dry eye disease include:

  • Chronic eye discomfort
  • Vision impairment
  • Negative impact on daily functioning and quality of life

Other names for dry eye disease include

  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca
  • Dry eye syndrome
  • Dysfunctional tear syndrome

Sometimes, dry eye diseases exists by itself. Other times, it's part of an underlying illness, as in Sjogren's syndrome, which an autoimmune condition that causes dry mouth and dry eyes.

There are some risk factors for experiencing dry eyes. For instance, dry eyes are more common in older females. Other risk factors include:

  • Hormonal changes (mainly a decrease in androgens like testosterone)
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Certain medications (e.g. antihistamines, anticholinergics, estrogens, isotretinoin, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, amiodarone, nicotinic acid, certain eye medications)
  • Systemic or whole-body illnesses (e.g. diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (for example, vitamin A deficiency)
  • Low humidity environment
  • People who have undergone eye surgery, especially corneal refractive surgery

What Does Dry Eye Feel Like?

People with dry eyes often complain of a gritty, irritated, and/or a burning sensation in their eyes. They often feel like there is a foreign body in their eye and may also notice red eyes and even excessive eye tearing (probably not what you would expect). People with dry eyes may also complain of light sensitivity or blurry vision to their doctor.

Symptoms of dry eye disease tend to come and go within different environments. For example, they tend to be worse in windy and/or cold weather.  In addition, dry eye disease can mimic symptoms of other common eyes diseases like allergic or viral conjunctivitis, blepharitis, or a bacterial eye infection. This is why a proper eye examination is needed.

Is There a Connection Between Dry Eyes and Migraines?

In one study of 33 migraineurs and 33 control subjects (people with no headache disorder), there was an increased frequency of dry eye disease found in the migraine group compared to the control group.

Another study found that dry eye was more likely to be present in a group of migraineurs than in the control group. But this finding did not reach statistical significance.

Nevertheless, this same study did show that the presence of auras was more likely in migraineurs with dry eye. Also, migraine attacks were more frequent and longer in duration in those with dry eye compared to those without dry eye.

These findings suggest that migraine attacks may be worsened by the co-presence of dry eyes.

How Is Dry Eye Disease Treated?

The mainstay treatment for dry eyes is artificial tears, which are available over-the-counter in liquid, gel, or ointment forms. Preservative-free artificial tears may be ideal, although sometimes these are costly.

There are also environmental coping strategies like staying away from air conditioners or heaters or placing a humidifier in your bedroom and/or place of work. Making an effort to blink frequently when you are doing work on your computer or reading can also be helpful.

If the diagnosis is in question, or you are not getting relief from artificial tears and environmental strategies, seeing an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in treating the eye) is your next best step.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, a link does not mean that one condition causes the other. Rather, a link implies a connection or relationship that may or may not have any significance for you as an individual.

If you do suffer from irritated, dry eyes and migraines, speak with your healthcare provider. He may recommend an ophthalmology examination or a trial of artificial tears.

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Article Sources
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  • Koktekir BE, Celik G, Karalezli A, & Kal A. (2012). Dry eyes and migraines: is there really a correlation? Cornea, 31(12):1414-6.
  • Shtein RM. (February 2017). Dry eyes. In: UpToDate, Trobe B (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.