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Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

(I-MED Pharma)

Do you ever feel like your dry eye and headache symptoms are related? You’re not alone. Many people experience both headache symptoms along with uncomfortable dry eye symptoms. But can dry eye actually cause headaches, or are the two ailments completely unrelated? It’s a bit complicated, but there are a few theories that dig deeper into the relationship.

What causes dry eyes and headaches?

The science is a bit divided on the relationship between dry eyes and headaches, however, a lot of people seem to suffer from both dry eye and headaches. Overall, the science does appear to suggest a correlation between headaches and dry eye, but it isn’t entirely conclusive. The Cornea published a study in 2012 titled, “Dry eyes and migraines: is there really a correlation?” in which they concluded the following: An increased frequency of dry eye disease was found to occur in patients with migraine, which might suggest that migraine headaches are related to dry eye disease. Some migraine attacks may be aggravated in the presence of dry eye syndrome. [1] Meaning, the two seem to be related in a sense, especially symptomatically.

The following discusses emerging theories as to why that may be:

Digital Eye Strain, Headaches, and Dry EyeScreen time

One theory explains this relationship as stemming primarily from digital strain related to dry eye. If the eyes are focusing on a screen for too long without the proper breaks, this can exacerbate dry eye symptoms as well as cause a tension headache due to the strain. Furthermore, if the screen time is associated with stress, like someone working a very stressful job for long hours, this can cause further tension and allow for dry eye and head pain to occur. This can particularly affect those who are already sensitive or prone to migraines or dry eye already.

Inflammation and HeadachesInflammation

Another theory suggests that the connecting factor between the two is the increase in inflammation. Inflammation, due to injury or other causes, may either cause or heighten the severity of dry eye disease and headaches. It has been well established in the literature surrounding dry eye and headaches that underlying inflammatory processes play a significant role in the pathogenesis of both disorders. [2] The role that inflammation can play is not entirely conclusive, though it is hypothesized that the inflammation from dry eye may trigger nerve endings that can lead to migraines, or vice-versa.

Possible link to migraine and dry eye due to eye structureStructural features

Beyond this, there is an additional theory that argues that the relationship is due to structural features in the eye, which makes certain people predisposed to both painful head and ocular symptoms. A study from 2015 titled, “Chronic migraine is associated with reduced corneal nerve fiber density and symptoms of dry eye” found that there is an interesting relationship between migraine, the structure of the eye, and dry eye, though it most likely will take further research. They concluded that those who had a particular structural difference that causes migraines seemed to suffer more from dry eye symptoms. [3] The understanding of this however is incredibly complex, seeing as the nerve endings in the face and beyond are also incredibly complex, and are still a topic of research today.

Medications can cause headache and dry eye symptomsMedication

Additionally, certain medications have both headaches and dry eye as side effects. A popular medication that has both side effects is isotretinoin, which is an active ingredient in popular acne medications, such as Acutane. [4] A varying number of medications also have dry eye as a side effect, and so those who are already suffering from migraines may then have other medications exacerbating their dry eye symptoms as well.

Can dry eyes cause ocular migraines?Can dry eyes cause ocular migraines?

You’re probably thinking “how is an ocular migraine different than a regular migraine?” but in fact, ocular migraines are a whole other can of worms. Ocular migraines differ in that they can arise with or without the traditional pain that comes from a migraine. [5] They can also cause vision loss, in both eyes or one, or can cause one to see lines, stars, though generally, vision in general can get distorted. As with other types of migraines, the cause isn’t well understood. Emerging theories center around genetics, hormones, or focus on specific triggers, such as stress, light, alcohol, or certain foods. [6]

How can ocular headaches be relieved?

Headaches of any kind are a nuisance, seeing as they can spread and cause pain all around the face. A good solution to ease tension would be an eye pillow for migraines. I-RELIEF™️ from I-MED Pharma is an eye mask for dry eyes that can be used for a variety of ailments, including easing headaches. For headaches, it is recommended to use a cold therapy eye mask on the face. Simply place I-RELIEF™️ in the fridge for 30 minutes prior to use, then cover it over your eyes. I-RELIEF™️ is incredibly versatile, because while it can be used for cold therapy, it can also be used for moist heat therapy.

Consider the following chart:

Moist heat and cold therapy for dry eyes

I-RELIEF™️ Hot & Cold Therapy Eye Mask with ThermaBeads™ to the rescue!

Another tip would be to regulate screen time. Digital eye strain can cause symptoms of dry eye to worsen, as well as cause headaches. It’s important to give your eyes a break, approximately every 20 minutes or so by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. After all, your eyes don’t want to be working overtime!

In all, although what connects the link between dry eye disease and headaches isn’t scientifically conclusive, there is a lot that shows that there is a relationship between dry eye and headaches. The biggest takeaway to note is that those who do suffer from migraines tend to have attacks that are longer and more severe in people who also suffer from dry eye disease. [7]  There are also many similar underlying traits between those who suffer from migraines as well as dry eye disease.

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[1] Koktekir , B. E., Celik, G., Karalezli, A., & Kal, A. (2021, December). Dry eyes and migraines: Is there really a correlation?. Cornea.

[2] Ismail, O. M., Poole, Z. B., Bierly, S. L., Van Buren, E. D., Lin, F.-C., Meyer, J. J., & Davis, R. M. (2019, May 1). Association between dry eye disease and migraine headaches in a large population-based study. JAMA ophthalmology.

[3] Kinard, K. I., Smith, A. G., Singleton, J. R., Lessard, M. K., Katz, B. J., Warner, J. E. A., Crum, A. V., Mifflin, M. D., Brennan, K. C., & Kathleen B Digre, K. B. (2015, April). Chronic migraine is associated with reduced corneal nerve fiber density and symptoms of Dry Eye. Headache.

[4] Connor, E. (2020, August 11). Can dry eyes cause headaches?. Healthline.

[5] Modglin, L. (2023, January 12). What causes ocular migraine? causes, treatment, and more. Healthline.

[6] Modglin, L. (2023, January 12). What causes ocular migraine? causes, treatment, and more. Healthline.

[7] Doherty, C. (2022, August 15). Is there a link between Dry Eye and migraines?. Verywell Health.