Migraines, Headaches and Eye Health
Migraines? Aren’t they just bad headaches? Well, not really. Migraines are defined as a headache that lasts from 4 hours up to several days and affects one or both sides of your head. It can feel as though your head is throbbing or being constricted and can be extremely painful. Often but not always, the pain is accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound and can feel worse if you move around. Some GP’s define a migraine as a headache bad enough for to stop you going about your normal day.
What’s that got to do with my eyes?
Migraines are headaches linked with a sensory imbalance, and as vision is a key part of your perception it is integrally linked to your nervous system: If your eyes are constantly straining, it can sometimes trigger a migraine.
What causes eye strain?
Asthenopia, the medical term for eyestrain, occurs when your eye muscles are over tired. If you can’t see clearly, you may squint often or hold items up close or far away from your face. This will tire the muscles more, meaning your eyesight deteriorates further – creating a vicious circle. Poor lighting can also strain your eyes, but any activity that demands intense use of your eyes for long periods can be linked to problems.
If you’re concentrating hard on something, be it staring at a screen, studying or driving, you tend to blink less, this can make the eyes feel very uncomfortable as they dry out. Working in low lighting creates a poor-quality image on the back of your eye, meaning your eyes work harder to keep focus. If you do any of this for several hours at a time, then the problem is just compounded. It’s important to make it a rule to give your eyes a break every twenty minutes by looking away and purposely focusing on something distant for a while. This increases the blink rate for and relaxes the focussing muscles.
The effort that the eye muscles exert is no different from any other muscle in the body. They get tired if you ask them to do too much. If you focus up close for a long time, it’s effectively the same as carrying heavy shopping back from the shop, your arms would ache, so your eyes will ache too. Having the right glasses will help, if you need a prescription for this, but no glasses will make you superhuman, if you do it for too long it will ache!
I’ve heard about migraines causing blindness – is that true?
Ocular migraines, if you’re unlucky enough to have them, can give many kinds of unusual symptoms. They are more common than you might imagine and are caused by spasms in the blood vessels near the visual pathway (the route from the eyes to the brain). Most commonly people report shimmery, kaleidoscope-type effects in their vision, often arc-shaped, lasting around 20 minutes and still visible when the eyes are closed. They can happen on their own, without the headache. In rarer, more severe cases, the vision can be interrupted more completely. In these cases, there are often other symptoms as well that can appear similar to a stroke. It all depends on where and how severe the spasms in the vessels are. Statistically you may be at a higher risk for permanent vision loss, it is rare though and often linked with other associated medical conditions. Barring an emergency, any concerning symptoms should be investigated by your GP, but it would be advisable to come and talk to us about your symptoms, too.
Sometimes my glasses give me a headache – what can I do?
Headaches caused by wearing spectacles can occur for a number of reasons. Reducing them depends on what you think is causing the headache. For example, if you get headaches mostly when you’ve been on your computer then it may be your prescription needs updating or you need a different type of lens for that task. It may be that you are suffering from glare problems. Or it may even be that it isn’t your specs, you may need to take better breaks from the screen as previously mentioned, as screen glare can cause strain.
Sometimes you can get headaches when you’ve had a change in prescription, particularly if it’s a big change. This happens is because your focusing muscles are used to working with your last prescription and now have to readjust. In order to help this process, it’s best to wear your new prescription as much as possible in order to shorten the time it takes your muscles to adjust.
Headaches can also be caused by a badly fitting pair of specs. If they are too tight, the pressure can get to a point where it causes an ache. If they are loose or wonky, the lenses can be misaligned, causing eyestrain. If you find the fit of your frames needs tweaking, or you need new frames altogether that are measured and fitted properly so that you can wear them with comfort we’ll be happy to help, of course.
The causes of headaches and migraines are complex and often difficult to pin down. Your eyes can be the cause, but they aren’t always the whole story. If any of the points raised in this article are causing you concern, then don’t hesitate to come and see us at any of our branches or contact your GP.