Dry eye disease is an extremely common condition that often feels like a burning or sandy sensation between the eyes and eyelids. It can cause redness, irritation, and even blurry vision. In some situations, people who experience migraines notice that dry eyes trigger their migraines to worsen. This has led to the question: can dry eyes actually cause headaches?
While dry eye doesn’t typically cause headaches directly, it can amplify the symptoms often caused by a migraine. Experiencing both conditions at once can lead to shooting pain, increased light sensitivity, and even nausea or dizziness.
This can make it essential to find a dry eye doctor who can treat dry eyes and help prevent worsening migraine symptoms.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Your eyes naturally disperse a thin tear film across their surface every time you blink. This tear film is made of 3 layers: the mucus layer, the water layer, and the oil layer. These layers work together to keep your eye moisturized, hydrated, and protected from debris.
However, a problem can develop with these layers, leading to tears that evaporate too quickly or lower natural tear production in your eyes. These problems with your tears can leave your eyes dry and cause the symptoms of dry eye disease.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Dry eye disease can lead to:
- Eye irritation
- A gritty, sandy, or burning sensation
- Blurry vision
- Watery eyes
- Light sensitivity
Can Dry Eyes Lead to Headaches?
While dry eyes can make the symptoms of headaches or migraines worse, they don’t typically directly cause headaches or migraines. Rather, they tend to amplify the symptoms of a headache and make them more severe. Unfortunately, it currently isn’t known what causes this link—but there are several theories. There are some studies that have been able to identify a link between dry eyes and headaches.
How Are Dry Eyes & Headaches Linked?
One theory often considered is that both dry eye syndrome and migraines are closely linked to significant inflammation, which could increase how severely a person feels these conditions.
A second theory suggests that increased light sensitivity in dry eyes can cause headaches because the brain is overstimulated, leading to feelings of shooting pain in the eyes and brain.
A third theory suggests proprioceptive conflict caused by binocular vision issues can lead to headaches, which can have overlapping symptoms of dry eye. When there is proprioceptive mismatch between misaligned eyes and the muscular eye system, this creates a neural conflict and leads to inaccurate gaze responses. The constant eye adjustment throughout the day leads to eyestrain and headaches.
Another study done in 2015 also revealed many people who experience both dry eyes and migraines have a lower corneal nerve density, which can contribute to headaches.
No matter what may be causing your symptoms, it’s important to remember that it is possible to get relief from both dry eyes and headaches.
How Is Dry Eye Treated?
Dry eye is considered a highly treatable condition. If you’re looking for relief from your dry eyes, your first step should be to find a dry eye doctor near you.
Through a comprehensive eye exam, an optometrist can determine what’s causing your dry eye symptoms and recommend an appropriate form of treatment.
One or more of the following treatments may be recommended:
- In-office treatments for dry eyes that use specialized equipment and technology to address the underlying causes of dry eyes such as Radiofrequency, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and LipiFlow
- Neurolens if the cause is proprioceptive conflict
- Autologous serum and/or platelet rich plasma drops to improve corneal density
In some situations, your dry eye doctor may recommend reducing your screen time or changing your environment to be more comfortable for your eye.
Where Can You Get Help for Dry Eyes?
At MyDryEye, we know how frustrating dry eyes can be, and we strive to help those with uncomfortable symptoms get the treatment they need.
Find a dry eye doctor near you today, and get the relief you deserve from your dry eyes and headaches!