Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

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Women experiencing headaches due to dry eye

Dry eyes can cause many annoying and uncomfortable symptoms. Light sensitivity, difficulty wearing contact lenses, and itchy, burning eyes are common. If you have dry eyes and frequent headaches, are these conditions connected? 

Continue reading to learn more about the relationship between these conditions, including if dry eyes can cause headaches.  

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Around 6 million Canadians experience dry eye disease. This condition occurs when your tears cannot provide enough moisture for your eyes. 

When there are issues with your tears, it can lead to inflamed and uncomfortable eyes. Inflammation occurs when there is instability in the tear film. Your tear film has 3 layers that help effectively lubricate and protect your eye’s surface. 

These layers include the lipid layer, which prevents your tears from evaporating too quickly, and the aqueous layer, the main water-like component of your tears. Finally, the mucous layer helps your tears spread evenly across the eye’s surface. 

When tear functionality is compromised, it can lead to dry eye symptoms. 

Dry Eye Symptoms  

Dry eye disease does more than make your eyes uncomfortable. This condition can lead to several irritating symptoms, including: 

  • A stinging, burning or scratching sensation in your eyes
  • Stringy mucus around the eyes
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Eye redness
  • Foreign object sensation
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue 

Experiencing these symptoms is a sign you should have your eyes assessed. Your optometrist can help determine why you have dry eyes. 

What Causes Dry Eyes?

Dry eyes occur because of tear film dysfunction. Issues in the tear film can cause problems with tear production and tear quality. 

The 2 forms of this condition are aqueous tear-deficient and evaporative dry eye disease. You may even have a combination of both types of dry eyes. 

Aqueous Tear-Deficient Dry Eye

Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye disease occurs when your tears lack enough moisture. This condition can occur when your lacrimal glands don’t produce enough tears. Tear production can decrease due to age or other factors, including: 

Evaporative Dry Eye

You have evaporative dry eye disease when your tears dry out faster than they should. This type of dry eye usually occurs due to blockages in the meibomian glands that release the oil needed to prevent your tears from evaporating. 

Besides blocked meibomian glands, causes of evaporative dry eye disease include: 

  • Rosacea & other skin conditions 
  • Contact lens overuse
  • Certain medications 
  • Certain diseases
  • Eye allergies
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Dry eyes can cause many irritating symptoms to develop and affect your quality of life. Some people may suffer from dry eyes and headaches, but is there a correlation between them? 

Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches? 

If you experience frequent dry eyes and headaches, you may wonder if they’re connected. While many studies focus on dry eyes and headaches, there isn’t a definitive answer. There is a link between these conditions, but researchers have not found a causal relationship

A 2017 study of over 14,000 patients discovered that 14% of people with migraine headaches also had dry eye disease. Only 8% of patients who didn’t have migraines had dry eyes. Additionally, a 2019 study found that people with migraine headaches are 1.42 times more likely to have dry eye disease

Researchers not finding a clear connection between headaches and dry eyes means that their relationship is uncertain. It’s unclear if headaches cause dry eyes, dry eyes cause headaches, or another factor triggers these conditions

Another possibility is that dry eyes and headaches share similar triggers. Exposure to digital screens can lead to both headaches and dry eyes. 

The best way to determine the cause of your dry eyes and headaches is to visit your optometrist. They can diagnose any underlying conditions and recommend an effective treatment plan. 

Seeking Treatment 

No matter the cause of your symptoms, you deserve relief. While it’s uncertain if dry eyes cause headaches, your optometrist can help treat both of these issues. 

After assessing your eyes, your optometrist can recommend a treatment plan to address any present problems. Treatment for dry eyes and headaches can vary. 

Dry Eyes

Dry eye disease is a multifactorial condition, so there could be many causes for your irritation. There are several at-home and professional dry eye treatments available. Your optometrist may recommend some of the following options: 

  • LipiFlow
  • Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL)
  • Low-level light therapy (LLLT)
  • Prescription eye drops
  • Artificial tears, gels & ointments 
  • Radio frequency treatment
  • Warm compresses
  • Omega-3 supplements
  • Eyelid cleaners

Headaches 

Headaches typically resolve with time, but they can be a symptom of another problem. Addressing the underlying issue will help reduce the frequency of your headaches. Some possible vision problems related to headaches include: 

  • Eyestrain
  • Presbyopia 
  • Farsightedness
man undergoing eye exam from optometrist at eye clinic

Find Relief From Dry Eyes

Whether you’re experiencing dry eyes, headaches, or both, your eye doctor can help. They can determine the cause of your symptoms during an eye exam before recommending a customized treatment plan. 

Don’t ignore signs of a problem. Contact your optometrist if you have dry eye symptoms or frequent headaches. 

Written by Anita Voisin

Dr. Voisin grew up in Waterloo, Ontario, and graduated as a Doctor of Optometry from the University of Waterloo in 1997. She practiced in Oshawa, Ontario for 2 years prior to joining Trevor Miranda at Cobble Hill Eyecare (formerly Mill Bay Eyecare). In June 2000, Anita also began providing Chemainus with comprehensive ocular health examinations in our then newly opened Chemainus office. Anita strives to improve the quality of life of each of her patients and enjoys educating local organizations on the importance of eye health. She is actively involved in the community with the Chemainus Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Chemainus. Dr. Voisin is dedicated to serving the vision needs of the Cowichan Valley and welcomes new patients at either location. Dr. Voisin is available for appointments in Chemainus and Cobble Hill.
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