Summit Eye Center Blog

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Headache Behind the Eyes

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Headaches are something we all experience from time to time. Some headaches feel as though they are right behind our eyes.

If we have frequent headaches, especially those that seem to originate behind our eyes, we often wonder if our eyes are causing the pain and discomfort. The quick answer is...most likely no, our eyes are not responsible for the pain and discomfort we experience.

The headache behind the eyes is often a referred pain, or pain that is perceived in a location other than where the pain originates. The body’s network of interconnecting nerves going to different parts of the body allows referred pain to occur.

Some simple things to look for that may indicate your eyes are contributing to your headache are redness on the white part of the eye and/or blurry or distorted vision.

Common causes of headache behind the eyes

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches often result in throbbing pain that begins around the eye and temple. These headaches typically occur on one side of the head and may radiate to the back of the head. This pain can last from a few hours to a few days and commonly worsens with movement.

Visual disturbances called auras can develop before the pain sets in. These auras consist of flashing lights, shimmering images or zigzag lines.

Not all people who experience migraine headaches experience an aura and not all people who experience an aura experience a headache. Those that experience the aura but no headache have what we call an ocular migraine.

We are not entirely sure what causes migraines, but it is thought to be related to levels of a chemical called serotonin in our brain. Changes in serotonin levels can cause blood vessel in our head to dilate or constrict.

There are often triggers to migraines. These triggers include the following:

• Certain foods and chemicals added to foods
• Stress
• Sleep problems
• Dehydration
• Weather changes
• Hormonal changes
• Smells
• Lights

Prescription and OTC pain medications can relieve the pain associated with migraines. Avoiding known triggers is also helpful. If you have frequent migraines or uncontrolled migraines, talk with your doctor about treatment options.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. The tightening of muscles in our scalp, neck and shoulders lead to the dull ache associated with tension headaches. The pain is often felt on both sides of the head or across the front of the head, behind our eyes.

Triggers for tension headaches include the following:

• Sleeping or sitting in an uncomfortable position
• Up close tasks such as reading or working on a computer
• Grinding your teeth while sleeping
• Chewing gum

Most tension headaches go away within a few hours. OTC pain medications work well to alleviate the pain associated with tension headaches. Talk to your doctor if you have frequent tension headaches.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches occur less frequently than tension headaches and migraines. These headaches occur on one side of the head, often behind one eye. They typically last from 20-30 minutes to a few hours. These headaches often occur in groups, where you will have several headaches over a few weeks and then go months without a headache.

OTC pain medications can help relieve the pain from cluster headaches. A heating pad or warm shower may provide relief as well. If you don’t get relief from your headache, you will want to see your doctor for additional treatment options.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus infections can lead to a headache. This headache typically occurs in the same area as the affected sinus...around the eyes, nose, forehead or cheeks. These headaches may be accompanied by a fever and nasal discharge. This pain usually worsens as the day goes on.

Clearing of the infection is how these headaches are treated. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or decongestants to clear the sinus.

Eye Conditions that can cause a headache behind the eyes

Angle-closure glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma is a specific type of glaucoma that results in extreme pain behind the eye and nausea. This is caused by a blockage in the drainage system within the eye that leads to a severely increased pressure within the eye. If you experience these symptoms, you should see your eye doctor immediately, as this is a true medical emergency.


Scleritis is an inflammation of the white part of the eye, the sclera. It is often associated with autoimmune disorders. It will present with a painful, red eye and possibly some light sensitivity.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the optic nerve in the back of the eye. Patients experience pain with eye movement and decreased vision.

In summary, most headaches are not related to our eyes or vision. If your headaches are becoming more frequent or more severe, you should talk to your primary care doctor. However, if you have any of the following symptoms associated with your headache you should contact your eye doctor immediately.

• Redness on the white part of the eye
• Blurry vision or loss of a portion of your vision
• Nausea

Summit Eye Center focuses on the medical and surgical management of the eye. If you are experiencing an eye problem, call us at 816.246.2111 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule an appointment.


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