Blog Hero

Do Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

Book Appointment
A man applying pressure to his temples to alleviate his headache.

Dry eyes and headaches are two common health woes that many of us have experienced at some point in our lives. If you have found yourself in the unfortunate overlap where both are present, you might be left wondering—could dry eyes be causing your headache?

We don’t know the exact connection between dry eyes and headaches, but there are some theories that dry eyes could cause headaches because of an unstable tear film or interference with the visual system. There’s firm proof that people suffering from migraines are more likely to experience dry eye. But regardless of whether your headaches are the result of dry eyes, you will want relief from either of these uncomfortable conditions.

The solution is often as simple as an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like Tylenol for headaches or OTC lubricating eye drops for dry eyes. But there could be situations where more is at work, and a more tailored approach is necessary. So, it is important to consult with your eye doctor for persistent or worsening symptoms.

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry Eye Syndrome, or dry eye, is a chronic condition affecting your tear production, tear quality, or both. The purpose of tears is to nourish the eye and maintain vision clarity by washing away small debris and preventing infection. Dry eyes can occur when the eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. 

Managing this condition is imperative not only for the relief of immediate discomfort but also for the long-term health of your eyes. Chronic dry eyes may result in more severe conditions such as corneal scarring, increased risk of infection, or the inability to wear contact lenses.

Understanding the Causes & Risk Factors

Numerous factors can lead to the development of dry eye, and several of them can work in combination to exacerbate the symptoms. Causes and risk factors may include:

  • Aging
  • Hormonal changes
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, and Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and some blood pressure medications
  • Environmental factors, such as wind, dry climates, and indoor heating/cooling systems 
  • Excessive screen time with a reduced blink rate
  • Eye surgeries

Recognizing the root causes that apply to you is critical for effective management.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms can vary for each individual, but common signs that you may have dry eye include:

  • A stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation
  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Light sensitivity or blurred vision
  • Watery eyes, which is the overcompensation of your dry eyes by producing more reflex tears

Dry Eyes & Headache Connection

The eye’s tear film is typically disturbed or unstable when someone experiences dry eyes. This can change the way light scatters across the eye, which is why light sensitivity can be a symptom of dry eye. And light sensitivity is associated with headaches.

Another connection researchers have made between dry eyes and headaches is that those who experience migraines are at a greater risk of displaying dry eye symptoms, such as poor tear production, an unstable tear film, and increased eye inflammation.

Prevention & Management Strategies for Dry Eyes & Headaches

There are numerous strategies to prevent and manage dry eyes and headaches, many of which are intertwined. Here are some approaches to consider:

Adjust Your Environment

Simple changes can do wonders. Use a humidifier, avoid direct air from fans and air conditioning, or consider wearing wraparound glasses to protect your eyes from the elements.

Take Regular Breaks

The 20-20-20 rule offers periodic rest by taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away. This can be especially helpful if you spend a lot of time on computers or other electronics.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Managing stress through relaxation techniques can decrease the tension that can lead to headaches. Exercise not only releases endorphins but also increases blood flow, which can help alleviate headaches.

Nutrition & Hydration

A woman drinking water from a plastic bottle.

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help lower inflammation and help with dry eye symptoms. Foods like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts are excellent sources. Staying well hydrated is also important for a stable tear film and can prevent an electrolyte imbalance and headaches.

Regular Eye Exams & Professional Advice

Continuous discomfort should cue a visit to your eye doctor. These professionals can diagnose dry eye syndrome and recommend treatments. They can also detect other issues that may be at the root of your headaches, such as vision problems or chronic conditions. Your eye health, and by extension, your head, is too precious to leave to chance.

Talk to Your Eye Doctor About Your Symptoms

The relationship between dry eyes and headaches may be complex, but it’s not insurmountable. By understanding the potential link and implementing the strategies outlined above, you can maintain a comfortable and clear-eyed perspective on life.Call our team at Eye Care Plus to book an appointment today. One of our experienced optometrists can listen to your symptoms, examine your eyes, and offer a tailored approach to get the relief you need from your headaches or dry eyes.

About the Author

Avatar photo
Dr. Jaya M. Pathapati grew up in the Bronx and Yonkers, NY. She got her Bachelor of Science in Biology and was awarded the highest distinction in Biology at the College of Mt. St. Vincent. She received her Doctor of Optometry from the State University of NY, College of Optometry. She rotated through externships that were hospital-based and through Veteran’s Affair in NY. Following graduation, she moved to Amarillo, Texas, with her husband. She has practiced in the Panhandle for the past 21 years.
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax