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Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

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A woman suffering from a headache applying pressure to her temples to alleviate it.

For the millions who experience chronic headaches or the discomfort of dry eyes, understanding the interplay between these conditions can be crucial to enhancing their quality of life. Despite common misconceptions, dry eyes do not cause headaches but can have shared triggers and symptoms. 

There can be several possible sources to your dry eye symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam can help determine the underlying cause for more appropriate treatment options and symptom relief. 

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a chronic condition where the eyes don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears to keep the eye’s surface moist. The condition can cause vision discomfort and symptoms that include:

  • A stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation in your eyes
  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Redness in the eyes
  • A sensation of having something in your eyes
  • Blurry vision

Causes of dry eye can affect how much tears your glands produce, how quickly your tears evaporate, and tear film stability. These causes can include the following: 

  • Age: Your body produces fewer tears as you get older. 
  • Gender: Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause can affect tear production.
  • Medications: Side effects of certain medications can lead to dry eye.
  • Health problems: Some health problems, such as diabetes, can cause dry eye. 
  • Laser eye surgery: Your eyes may produce fewer tears for some time after laser eye surgery. 
  • Environmental factors: Windy, smoky, or dry environments can cause evaporation of tears and lead to dry eyes. 
  • Digital screen usage: Long hours of screen time can cause less frequent blinking and lead to dry eyes. 

Understanding Headaches

To tackle whether dry eyes can cause headaches, we need to understand headaches themselves. The three most common types of headaches are tension-type headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.

Each type of headache has its own symptoms and intensity of pain, with migraines, for example, often causing severe, throbbing pain to one side of the head. Tension headaches, on the other hand, typically cause mild to moderate pain that can feel like a band tightening around the head.

The Connection Between Dry Eyes & Headaches

In a more general sense, dry eyes and headaches can often share similar triggers and occur together, especially if those triggers include staring at digital screens for extended periods or changes in environmental conditions.

Eye Strain 

When the eyes are dry, they must work harder to focus, leading to prolonged straining and an increased likelihood of headaches, particularly tension headaches, which cause muscle tension and strain, both of which can result from eye strain due to dry eyes. 

Cluster Headaches

While cluster headaches are felt on one side of the head, some people may experience pain behind the eye. They may attribute that to dry eye being the cause of the pain. 

Sjörgen’s Disease

Sjörgen’s disease is an autoimmune condition that can affect tear production leading to dry eye and headaches.


For those who suffer from dry eyes and headaches, there are treatment options for relief. Managing dry eye symptoms might include using artificial tears, ointments, or punctal plugs, which keep tears from draining too quickly out of the eye. Benefits from these treatments may alleviate irritating sensations and promote better hydration of the eyes, subsequently reducing associated trigger-related headaches.

Another treatment option for dry eye is TempSure Envi, or heat energy applied to the eyes to help liquefy the oil (meibum) that may clog the meibomian glands within your eyelids. This treatment also safely and gently massages inflamed glands to increase the quality of the tear film.

For headache relief, over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may be effective for some. Additionally, lifestyle changes, stress management, and rest can help you manage headaches.

Prevention & Management

In the long term prevention is key to managing dry eyes and headaches. For dry eyes, this can mean adjusting your environment to minimize exposure to dry air, wind, and smoke and considering nutritional supplements. Also, take regular breaks during screen time to rest your eyes.

A bowl of salad filled with healthy food.

To prevent headaches, identify and avoid triggers such as lack of sleep, dehydration, certain foods, and even particular smells or lights. Regular physical activity and a balanced diet can also be effective preventative measures.

Personalized Dry Eye Therapy

It’s important to note that while dry eyes and headaches often occur together, the former is not a direct cause of the latter. Both conditions, however, can share a range of environmental and lifestyle triggers. 

Understanding these connections and seeking the appropriate care can lead to a better quality of life for those affected. If you experience chronic dry eye symptoms, book an appointment with The Eye Avenue for a personalized treatment plan that aligns with your vision needs. 

Written by Dr. Regina Tran

Dr. Regina Tran is a board-certified Optometric Physician. She is a member of the American Optometric Association, Florida Optometric Association, and current Vice President Central Society of Optometric Physician. Dr. Tran was born and raised in Florida, where she attended the University of Central Florida and majored in Molecular & Microbiology. She proceeded to earn her Doctor of Optometry degree in 2012, where she met her other half, Dr. John Tran. Together, they returned to her hometown in Orlando upon graduation. Dr. Tran is passionate about bringing the latest technology in eye care to her patients. She enjoys providing one-on-one personalized experience and education to her patients to facilitate optimal visual function and lifestyle.
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