Causes of a headache behind the eyes
A headache behind the eyes is an uncomfortable sensation that is felt around or on the back of the eye, which may or may not be a throbbing ache. A headache may occur due to a primary cause or as a secondary cause due to an illness or injury.
A headache behind the eyes may be caused by multiple reasons. Common reasons include
- Tension headaches: They are the most common type of headaches usually lasting for several days. They are experienced as mild aches either on both sides of the head or as a band behind the eyes. Tension headaches appear after continuous and close focus on an activity and worsen as the day progresses.
- Migraines: Throbbing pain from a migraine headache almost always includes pain behind the eyes. Migraines can cause pain around the eyes and temple area, spreading behind the eyes to the back of the head. They are often associated with nausea, weakness and mood changes.
- Cluster headaches: They occur in cycles, often for several days or weeks and then disappear for months. They cause severe one-sided headaches with extreme pain behind or around one eye, occurring more frequently in men than in women. Patients often have a droopy eyelid, red watery eye and stuffy runny nose on the affected side.
- Sinus headaches: They appear most often during allergy flare-ups. Sinusitis or sinus inflammation causes pressure and pain behind the eyes and tenderness in front of the face. Symptoms are similar to those of migraines and cluster headaches, misleading people.
- Occipital neuralgia: It is a headache that begins in the upper neck or back of the head, moving behind the eyes and across the scalp with bursts of pain. This type of headache often affects people prone to migraines and is a result of an irritation or injury of the occipital nerves.
- Brain aneurysm: Pain is intense. This occurs when an artery wall in the brain becomes weak resulting in hemorrhage or a stroke.
- Angle-closure glaucoma: It can cause nausea and a severe headache behind the eyes. Glaucoma is an eye disease affecting the optic nerves causing peripheral vision loss, blurred vision, halos around lights and difficulty in adapting to darkness.
- Graves' disease: It is an autoimmune eye disorder associated with thyroid gland abnormalities. It can cause a headache behind the eyes and is characterized by bulging eyes, eyelid retraction, limited eye mobility, double vision or vision loss and red or pink eyes.
- Scleritis (inflammation of the sclera): Stabbing pain behind the eyes is caused by an inflammation of the sclera, the outer coating of the eyeball. Scleritis is commonly caused by autoimmune disorders (an allergic response to the body’s own protein), and the symptoms include a headache behind the eyes, red or pink eyes, tearing and blurred vision and light sensitivity.
- Dry eyes: A condition where the eyes are unable to produce sufficient tears to moisten the eyes causing sensitivity to light, which leads to pain behind the eyes.
- Vision problems: People with vision problems such as farsightedness, nearsightedness or astigmatism are more prone to develop pain behind the eyes due to compromised vision.
- Eye strain: It is caused by straining to read/see in poor lighting, reading without giving rest to the eyes, using outdated prescription for glasses/contact lenses, driving long distances and exposure to glare. It leads to a headache behind the eyes.
- Poor posture: Muscle strain and poor posture in adults can lead to misalignments in the soft tissues and over time this weakens the surrounding area, causing frequent headaches behind the eyes.
What is the treatment of headaches behind the eyes?
Medication: Over-the-counter and prescription pain medications are used to temporarily relieve pain.
Other effective treatments to prevent and treat headaches include
- Resting in a dark room
- Avoiding headache triggers
- Using ice packs
- Placing a warm compress over the eyes
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating regular meals
- Avoiding long gaps in between meals
- Avoiding processed foods
- Getting regular sleep
- Avoiding alcohol
- Avoiding smoking/tobacco
- Avoiding or limiting caffeine intake
- Maintaining proper posture
- Drinking adequate water
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing
- Getting regular eye exams and obtaining corrective lenses or glasses
If a headache is recurrent or worsens or if any of the symptoms are out of ordinary, people should seek medical attention.
American Academy of Ophthalmology
National Headache Foundation
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