Headaches and Your Vision

How a Headache Can Affect Your Eyes and Vision

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.

On the other hand, a headache may be a sign that your eyes are changing and that it's time to schedule an eye exam. Although headaches are rarely a medical emergency, you shouldn't ignore a severe one.

This article will discuss how different kinds of headaches can affect your eyes and vision. It will also talk about certain vision problems that can cause headaches.

headaches and vision

Verywell / Luyi Wang

Headaches That Affect Vision

Headaches can sometimes cause vision problems. This is especially true with migraines and cluster headaches.

Migraine Headache

A migraine headache can cause intense pain in and around your eyes. An aura often arrives before the actual headache and can include visual symptoms such as flashing lights, a rainbow of lights, or a zig-zag pattern of shimmering lights . The aura typically lasts around 20 minutes.

Some people who experience a migraine aura never develop the actual headache. This makes diagnosing the visual problems difficult. Migraines can also cause tingling or numbness of the skin. People with severe migraines may experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity

Medications, certain foods, smells, loud noises, and bright lights can all trigger a migraine headache.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are severe headaches that occur in clusters. They typically cause pain around the eyes. The pain often travels down the neck to include the shoulder. Other symptoms include:

Cluster headaches may occur daily for several months at a time. This is followed by a long period with no headaches.

It is not known what causes cluster headaches. But they are clearly one of the most severe headaches one can experience.

Vision Problems That Cause Headaches

On the flip side, vision problems can cause headaches when you either overwork the eyes or struggle to maintain focus. By correcting the vision problem, you can often resolve the headache.

Eye Strain

Simply overusing the focusing muscles of your eyes can cause eye strain and headaches. This is an increasing problem in our high-tech world.

Small-screen texting and web browsing can easily cause eye strain. This is because the words and images on a computer screen are made up of pixels and do not have well-defined edges.

The eyes cannot easily focus on pixels. As a result, they must work harder even if an image is in high resolution. When the eye muscles get tired, a headache can develop around or behind the eyes.

Farsightedness

Adults and children with uncorrected farsightedness (hypermetropia) will often experience a frontal headache (also known as a "brow ache"). If you are farsighted, you may find it difficult to focus on nearby objects. This results in eye strain and headaches. As you subconsciously compensate for your farsightedness by focusing harder, the headaches can become worse and more frequent.

Presbyopia

Around the age of 40, people begin to find it difficult to focus on nearby objects. Activities such as reading or threading a needle are often difficult to perform because of blurring. This is an unavoidable condition known as presbyopia that affects everyone at some point.

Headaches develop as you try to compensate for the lack of focusing power. Reading glasses can often relieve the underlying eye strain.

Occupations requiring close-up work, exposure to sunlight for longer periods of time, and farsightedness were the most common risk factors for presbyopia.

Giant Cell Arteritis

Also known as temporal arteritis, giant cell arteritis (GCA) is inflammation of the lining of the arteries that run along the temple. GCA usually creates a headache that causes constant, throbbing pain in the temples.

Vision symptoms occur as a result of a loss of blood supply to the optic nerve and retina. Other symptoms include:

GCA is considered a medical emergency. If left untreated, the condition may cause vision loss in one or both eyes. A delayed diagnosis is the most common cause of GCA-associated vision loss.

2:18

What Is a Retinal Migraine?

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma 

Acute angle-closure glaucoma (AACG) is a rare type of glaucoma that causes symptoms such as headaches, to suddenly appear. Eye pressure rises quickly in AACG. This causes:

  • Increased eye redness
  • Eye pain
  • Cloudy vision

A "mid-dilated pupil," in which the pupil dilates (widens) slowly and incompletely, is one of the most important diagnostic features of AACG.

Ocular Ischemic Syndrome

Ocular ischemic syndrome (OIS) is a condition that develops due to a chronic lack of blood flow to the eye. This condition often causes a headache, decreased vision, and several other signs, including:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Iris neovascularization (the development of weak new blood vessels in the iris)
  • Retinal hemorrhage (abnormal bleeding inside the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye)

White spots on the retina signal a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the retinal tissue.

2:18

What Is a Retinal Migraine?

Herpes Zoster

Also known as shingles, herpes zoster is known for causing headaches, vision changes, and severe pain around the head and eye. Herpes zoster is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. It affects a single side of the body. A headache usually comes before an outbreak of painful skin blisters.

Herpes zoster around the eyes is serious. It requires immediate medical attention (including antiviral medication) to prevent damage to the ocular nerves and eyes. Complications include:

  • Clouding of the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye
  • Glaucoma
  • Optic nerve atrophy (deterioration)

Pseudotumor Cerebri

Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition that occurs when the pressure within the skull increases for no apparent reason. Pseudotumor cerebri is also referred to as idiopathic intracranial hypertension. "Idiopathic" means the cause isn't known, and "hypertension" means high blood pressure.

Pseudotumor cerebri often causes a headache and changes in vision. If left untreated, pseudotumor cerebri can lead to vision loss. This is because the pressure places strain on the optic nerves.

Fortunately, while 65% to 85% of people with pseudotumor cerebri will experience visual impairment, the condition is usually temporary. It will go back to normal when the hypertension is controlled.

Summary

Headaches may be a sign that there is a problem with your vision. For example, migraines and cluster headaches may temporarily cause vision symptoms. But these issues go away once you no longer have the headache.

On the other hand, other eye conditions can also cause a headache. Some are serious, such as ocular ischemic syndrome (OIS), which develops because of a lack of blood flow to the eye.

For this reason, if you are experiencing headaches and/or vision changes, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to rule out any serious medical conditions.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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