More than 10 million people in the UK regularly suffer from headaches. If it has been some time since your last eye examination, a routine sight test can help to detect if there is an ocular cause for headaches. Your optometrist can find out if your headaches are due to an uncorrected refractive error (spectacle prescription), ocular muscle imbalance or other eye-health issues.
Am I suffering from eye strain?
A common cause of a frontal headache over the brow, or ‘in and around’ the eyes is eye strain. There is often a link to performing certain concentrated tasks such as reading, studying or screen use. When the eyes become tired and overworked this is termed as asthenopia.
The intra-ocular muscles can be prone to fatigue and this is particularly the case with uncorrected long-sightedness (hyperopia). A patient with an uncorrected long-sighted prescription will need to work much harder to maintain clear focus at a near range. The constant effort of this over-focusing often leads to frontal headaches.
Uncorrected astigmatism is also a cause of headaches, this is a common condition where refractive elements of the eye (the lens or more commonly the cornea) are irregular in shape. It causes blurred or strained vision as light does not travel through the eye uniformly.
Presbyopia describes the condition where the lens of the eye becomes inflexible, making it more difficult to focus comfortably and clearly on near objects. This is a natural process which commonly becomes noticeable in our mid 40’s. The early stages of presbyopia cause us to strain our eyes and induce associated headaches.
Occasionally, eyestrain related headaches can occur due to an imbalance in our extra-ocular muscles (latent strabismus). These are the muscles which help our eyes to work together as a pair; when tracking, scanning or concentrating on targets, both near and far. Our visual system may struggle to align the eyes accurately in order to maintain a clear and stable single image. An eye muscle weakness which is difficult to control naturally may give symptoms of shadowed or even double vision.
Luckily, these conditions are easily corrected with an accurate prescription and a well made, well fitting, individually measured pair of spectacles. The incorporation of prism into a prescription will correct latent strabismus and its associated symptoms.
Eye strain can also be a result of concentrating on an object for too long like a computer screen, other symptoms of this are the tired eye. This can easily be reduced by eye exercises throughout the day but could also be a result of more serious eye problems.
Rare causes of ocular headaches
During an eye examination, a full range of eye health tests can help to rule out the following, rare causes of a headache:
- Elevated intra-ocular pressure – A rare form of glaucoma can occur when the pressure of the fluid inside the eye increases suddenly (closed-angle glaucoma). There will be acute pain/headache felt within and around the affected eye.
- Optic Neuritis – Patients with inflammation of the eye complain of pain during eye movements.
- Giant Cell Arteritis – This gives a distinct temporal headache/tenderness to the touch on the affected temple.
These causes of a headache are thankfully rare, however, if you experience a change in vision, nausea or sickness associated with your headaches, it is advisable to seek investigation as soon as possible.