Blurry Vision and Headache

How They're Connected and What to Do

Have you ever had blurry vision with a headache? Sometimes a headache can cause pain around your eyes or vision changes, 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, like an eye strain headache.

headaches and vision

Verywell / Luyi Wang

Headaches That Cause Blurry Vision or Vision Changes

Headaches can sometimes cause blurry vision and other 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, as well as vision changes.

An aura often arrives before the actual headache. The aura typically lasts about 20 minutes and can include visual symptoms such as:

  • Blurry vision
  • Flashing lights
  • A rainbow of lights
  • A zig-zag pattern of shimmering lights

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.

The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown.

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, such as an eye strain headache. By correcting the vision problem, you can often resolve the headache.

Eye Strain Headache

Overusing the focusing muscles of your eyes can cause eye strain and headaches.

Common causes of eye strain include looking at screens for a long time, such as:

  • Computer or laptop screens
  • Cell phones
  • TV screens
  • Video games
  • Other digital devices

The words and images on a screen are made up of pixels and don't have well-defined edges. The eyes can't easily focus on pixels.

As a result, eyes 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.

Common symptoms of eye strain include:

  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Dry eye
  • Irritated, burning eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty focusing

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 start to have difficulty focusing on nearby objects.

Activities such as reading or threading a needle are often difficult to perform because of blurry eyes. 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 that require close-up work, exposure to sunlight for longer periods of time, and farsightedness are 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:

  • Fever, fatigue, and muscle aches
  • Scalp tenderness
  • Pain while chewing
  • Decreased vision​

Giant cell arteritis 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 like headaches to appear suddenly. Eye pressure rises quickly in AACG and causes:

  • Increased eye redness
  • Eye pain
  • Cloudy vision
  • Blurry 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 is a condition that develops due to a chronic lack of blood flow to the eye. This condition often causes symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Decreased vision
  • 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

Herpes zoster (shingles) causes 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 of herpes zoster 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What to do if your eyes are blurry and you have a headache?

    If have blurry vision and a headache at the same time, contact your healthcare provider. Sometimes it can be a sign of a more serious condition, like herpes zoster in your eye or a stroke.

  • How long does an eye strain headache last?

    Usually only up to an hour after extensive screen time. Sometimes it can last longer, though.

  • Does COVID cause tension headaches?

    COVID-19 can cause headaches that feel like tension headaches or migraines. It's usually a moderate-severe headache that comes on gradually. It feels like throbbing or pressing pain on both sides of your head, forehead, or around the eyes.

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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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