Dry eyes and headaches can have common triggers and occur together, but there is no evidence that one causes the other. But, if one trigger leads to both dry eye and headaches, identifying and removing it may relieve both.
Can dry eyes cause headaches? This is a common question that people with headaches and dry eyes may ask.
Several studies have shown a correlation between dry eyes and headaches, with a link that might run in both directions.
This article explores the symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention of both dry eyes and headaches, the relationship between dry eyes and headaches, and the research behind this connection.
- pain or burning in the eye
- pressure in the eye
- a sensation that there is something stuck in the eye
- frequent blinking
- tearing up
- sensitivity to light
- blurry vision
- eye fatigue
People with headaches may find that the headache appears before the eyes feel dry, around the same time as the eyes start feeling dry, or after a period of dry eyes.
Headaches generally cause head pain, but they may also cause other symptoms, including eye- and vision-related symptoms.
A number of studies have found a link between migraine headaches and dry eyes.
For example, a 2017 study of 14,329 adults found that 14.4% of people who experienced migraine headaches reported a dry eye diagnosis, compared with 8.2% who did not experience migraine headaches.
Also, 22% of the participants in the study who experienced migraine headaches reported dry eye symptoms, compared with 15.1% who had no history of migraine headaches.
However, researchers have not yet found a causal connection between migraine headaches and dry eyes. This means that it is unclear whether migraine causes dry eyes, if dry eyes cause migraine, or if some other factor explains the connection.
People who experience migraine episodes can have a wide range of triggers. For some, eye strain or dry eyes may be a trigger.
It is also possible that the two complaints share triggers. For example, neck pain and exposure to light are
Some other potential links between dry eyes and headaches include:
- Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches are severe headaches that usually affect one side of the head. Some people experience pain or a stabbing sensation in or just behind the eye. They may confuse this with dry eyes or believe that dry eyes cause the pain.
- Sjörgen’s disease: Sjörgen’s is an autoimmune condition, which means that it causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue. It can cause problems producing tears, leading to dry eyes. It may also cause joint pain and tension, as well as headaches.
- Eye strain: Eye strain can cause the eyes to feel dry or tired. Some people may attribute this to dry eyes. People with eye strain may also experience headaches and other types of muscle tension, such as neck pain, especially due to sitting in one position and staring at a computer for a long period of time.
Dry eyes can happen for
- the use of certain medications, such as antihistamines and antidepressants
- clogged Meibomian glands, which are the oil glands in the eyelids
- the use of certain eye drops, such as glaucoma drops
- irritation from the environment, such as when a person lives in a very dry climate or strains their eyes due to staring at a computer screen
- recent eye surgery
- the use of contact lenses
- exposure to irritants such as perfume and smoke
- nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin A deficiency
Certain factors may increase the risk of dry eyes, including:
Although some people experience dry eyes and headaches at the same time, there is no evidence to suggest that treating one will cure or relieve the other.
When a single trigger causes both, such as when a person develops a headache after sitting at a desk and staring at a screen all day, removing the trigger may help with both complaints.
Some treatment options for dry eyes include:
- Using immunomodulators: Some people may find relief from over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, but others might need prescription drops (immunomodulators), such as Restasis or Cequa.
- Managing triggers and environmental factors: Using a humidifier during sleep, minimizing contact with allergens, and taking frequent breaks from screen time may help.
- Trying therapeutic lenses: Certain types of contact lenses can help the eyes retain more moisture.
- Using tear duct (punctual) plugs: Plugging the tear ducts can help tears stay in the eyes for longer.
- Undergoing surgery: Various surgeries may help reduce dry eyes when other treatments do not work. For example, a surgeon can permanently seal the tear ducts or place an amniotic graft on the cornea to help with dryness.
Warm compresses and lid scrubs can ease eye irritation from some eye health conditions, such as blepharitis.
If home treatments do not work, a doctor may recommend the
- treatment for underlying eye or skin health issues
- prescription-strength dry eye treatments
- steroid treatments
- temporary plugs in the tear ducts to increase the length of time that tears stay in the eyes
- surgical treatments, such as sealing the tear ducts
- thermal pulsation
- intense pulsed light
A doctor can recommend treatments for managing headaches and ensure that a person does not have a serious underlying condition.
For occasional headaches, a person may wish to try the following:
It may be possible to prevent headaches and dry eyes by keeping a journal of one’s triggers, then removing or avoiding those triggers.
For example, a person might find that dehydration and eye strain trigger both headaches and dry eyes.
- asking a doctor about headache prevention medication if they have chronic migraine headaches or other severe headaches
- exercising regularly, which may improve general headache symptoms and reduce the pain of tension headaches
- taking frequent stretching breaks when working in an awkward position or in front of a computer
- developing strategies for managing stress
To prevent dry eyes, a person can also try:
- taking frequent breaks when working and blinking regularly when staring at a screen
- using a humidifier to make the air less dry
- asking a doctor about a fatty acid supplement
- drinking plenty of water
- minimizing time spent in very dry environments
- not allowing air to blow into the eyes, such as by not sitting in front of a fan or heater
Most headaches go away on their own, with or without treatment.
Migraine headaches typically last
Dry eyes may also
The outlook for each complaint is better if a person can identify and address the underlying cause.
Dry eyes and headaches sometimes occur together, and people with certain types of headaches are more likely to experience dry eyes.
Despite this, researchers have not established a clear causal relationship between the two.
People who are experiencing both symptoms should inform a doctor and ask about treatment options for each issue.