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Can Dry Eye Cause Headaches?

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A brunette woman holds her glasses in her right hand while rubbing both of her eyes with her left as she works on her computer at the table with papers spread out.

Can Dry Eye Cause Headaches?

Dry eye disease is exactly what its name suggests – an eye condition resulting in extreme dryness. This condition is caused by inadequate tear production, and its symptoms can be irritating and painful. 

If you have dry eyes, you already know how annoying they can be. Combine dry, stinging eyes with a headache, and your day really starts to go downhill fast. 

Many Albertans experience dry eyes and headaches simultaneously, and researchers are beginning to suspect that these conditions are connected. But how is that possible? 

At Aurora Eye Care, we’re committed to your comfort and overall visual health, and want to make sure you have access to the most up-to-date information about headaches and dry eyes. Let’s examine how these 2 conditions may be linked! 

The Facts About Dry Eyes

When your tears don’t provide enough lubrication to keep your eyes comfortable, it can result in a tear film imbalance, and irritated eyes. Excessive dryness means your eyes are not receiving proper protection and hydration.

The tear film has 3 layers, each with an essential job in keeping your eyes moist and bacteria-free:

  • Outer oily lipid layer: This layer slows down evaporation, and keeps the eye’s surface smooth.
  • Watery middle aqueous layer: This layer hydrates the eye, and helps move nutrients to their correct position.
  • Inner mucous layer: This layer helps tears adhere to the eyeball.

Many health conditions and factors can affect your vision by causing inflammation and blockages. These conditions may also affect your eyes from producing critical tear film components

Conditions like blepharitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes can contribute to dry eyes, as well as factors like: 

  • Environment: Welcome to Alberta, Canada’s windiest, driest, and smokiest province! Our climate is a significant contributor to tear film evaporation.
  • Allergies: Allergy medications and allergic reactions can affect tear film production.
  • Vitamin A deficiency: One of the first symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency is dry eyes.
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, menopause, or hormone replacement therapy can lead to dry eyes.
  • Medication: A large number of medications have visual side effects, including heartburn medications, birth control pills, and sleeping pills. 
  • Age: Dry eyes are more common in adults over 50
  • Contact lenses: Wearing contact lenses for extended periods can result in dry eye symptoms.
  • LASIK: Dry eyes can be a side effect of LASIK eye surgery
  • Close-up tasks: Reading for extended periods, working on crafts like needlework or sewing, and spending more than 2 hours on a screen can result in dry eyes.
Young brunette man squeezes his temples with both hands due to headache, as his glasses rest on the desk with his laptop and work papers.

Symptoms of Dry Eyes

Dry eye symptoms may be chronic or occur infrequently. Here are a few signs of dry eye disease: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Stinging or burning eyes
  • Stringy mucus
  • Eyes that itch
  • Tired eyes 
  • Light sensitivity
  • Constant feeling of something in the eye 
  • Watery eyes
  • Red eye & eyelids
  • Swollen or puffy eyes
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses

The Link Between Headaches & Dry Eye Disease

Although several studies have been published about the link between headaches and dry eye disease, researchers are still unclear about the exact connection.

Research suggests that the odds of having dry eye disease with a diagnosis of migraine headaches are higher by at least 20%, and it has been determined that headaches and dry eyes often have similar causes, and common symptoms.

If you are regularly experiencing dry eyes and headaches, contact our experienced team at Aurora Eye Care. We can help determine the cause, determine if your conditions are connected, and provide soothing relief. 

Treatments for dry eyes are similar to the treatments offered for chronic headaches, and resolving your dry eyes may help alleviate the symptoms of both conditions. 

Dry Eye Treatments

Treatment solutions for dry eye can vary depending on the root cause of your symptoms. And guess what? Some of these treatments can help alleviate headaches too! 

Treatments can include:

  • Prescription changes: Talk to your doctor about your medications with visual side effects. Dosage adjustments and different medications can often help to alleviate dry eye symptoms.
  • Changes to your Environment: Making simple changes in your home can help too! Try: 
    • Using a humidifier.
    • Sitting away from your fan or air conditioner.
    • Spending limited time outdoors on smoky or windy days.
    • Taking frequent breaks from computers and digital screens.
    • We don’t want to nag you too much, but DRINK MORE WATER
  • Eye drops: Over-the-counter eye drops can help with mild cases of dry eyes, but some eye drops can actually make symptoms worse! Contact Aurora Eye Care if you’re considering eye drops. We can recommend a brand that works for you.
  • Eyelid treatments: Prescription eye drops and ointments can help reduce the inflammation caused by dry eyes. Our optometrists may also use warm compresses to break up blockages and help improve your symptoms, just like a little spa for your eyes! 
  • Systane iLux MGD Treatment Device: The iLux device is another fantastic option for those suffering from strong meibomian gland dysfunction symptoms that don’t respond to other treatments such as a warm compress. The device uses LED-based heat to warm both the inner and outer side of the eyelid to help melt the waxy secretions inside the gland. Once the eyelid has been warmead, your eye doctor will apply compression to secrete the remaining wax. This treatment takes less than 10 minutes and has shown fantastic improvement in dry eye symptoms for our patients.

Dry Eye Experts, At Your Service

If your headaches and dry eyes seem to coincide with each other frequently, book an appointment with Aurora Eye Care. We can work together and find out if these conditions are linked, and find a treatment that works with your unique vision and lifestyle.

You don’t have to suffer through the irritating symptoms of dry eye disease. Our team is waiting to soothe and refresh your tired eyes. You deserve relief; call us today!

Written by Dr. Kyla Hunter

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