If you suffer from migraines, you may also experience symptoms of dry eye syndrome, known more simply as dry eyes.
Dry eyes and migraines go hand in hand, with both conditions sharing many of the same symptoms. But can dry eyes cause migraines? Or migraines make dry eyes worse?
In this post, we look at the connections between dry eyes and migraines, what causes them, and whether there is indeed a link between them.
First, though, a quick recap of dry eye syndrome.
What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is a condition that causes your eyes to feel irritated, itchy, and dehydrated. This can lead to eyesight being affected, making everyday tasks difficult. Without treatment, it can lead to further, longer-term damage to your eyes.
People with this condition usually fall under one of these three categories:
- Their tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate their eyes.
- They don’t produce enough fatty acids in the tear film. These prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.
- Their conjunctiva doesn’t produce enough mucins. These help to keep the tears attached to the cornea and working as normal.
Someone who is deficient in mucins will normally display very watery or runny eyes. Even though their eyes appear to be overly lubricated, they are not since the tears cannot attach and remain on the surface of the eye.
In short, your eyes produce tears that keep the surface of the eye lubricated, allowing you to see clearly and effectively. Dry eyes occur when this production is obstructed or inhibited.
Dry Eyes Symptoms
Dry eyes symptoms can include:
- A perpetual feeling of having something stuck in the eye
- Sore or stinging sensation in the eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Watery or runny eyes
- Difficulties with vision, including double vision
- Eye redness, especially around the conjunctiva
- Mucus in the eyes
These symptoms can leave your eyes feeling tired and make many everyday tasks much more challenging. Recognizing and identifying your dry eyes can be important to prevent you from further aggravating them through rubbing.
Important: While dry eye syndrome in itself is usually not a serious condition, left untreated it can cause permanent damage to your eyes. It’s important to treat dry eyes quickly and effectively to prevent this.
What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?
A range or combination of different factors can cause dry eyes. These include:
- Hormonal imbalances (especially in pregnant or menopausal women)
- Thyroid issues
- Allergies that affect the eyes
- Low humidity
- Regularly performing activities that require prolonged visual concentration – driving, using a computer
- Intense light or wind exposure
- Lifestyle and dietary factors
A migraine is a headache that causes moderate to severe throbbing pain on one side of the face. There are several types of migraines, of which the most common is the classic migraine.
People who suffer from a classic migraine will normally exhibit the following symptoms:
- Headache – this can range from mild to severe
- Dizziness or unsteadiness
- Tingling, numbness, or pins and needles sensations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slurred speech
Alongside or separate from these, you might also experience a migraine aura. A migraine aura manifests as sensory disturbances including:
- Loss of vision or blind spots
- Seeing stars, flashing lights, or patterns in your vision
- Hallucinations (seeing things that are not real)
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus)
- Hallucinations (hearing things that are not real)
- Numbness, pins and needles, and a tingling feeling
- Pain in the neck or jaw
- Weakness in muscles
Migraine aura occurs in other types of migraine besides the classic migraine, including the Hemiplegic migraine, a migraine that can cause temporary paralysis on one side of the body.
One type of migraine, called an ocular or retinal migraine, primarily affects the patient’s eye. It occurs with or without a migraine aura.
Ocular migraines occur when blood vessels leading to the eye constrict, reducing blood flow to the affected eye. This can cause temporary blindness that can be frightening to the person suffering from it.
What Causes Migraines?
The causes of migraines are not fully understood. What we do know is that migraines can be brought on through certain triggers including:
- Exposure to flashing or bright light
- Lack of or too much sleep
- Caffeine or alcohol
- Foods containing tyramine (that includes chocolate, processed meat, or cheese)
- Hunger or under-eating
According to the American Migraine Foundation, women are more likely to suffer migraines than men because of hormones.
Shared Symptoms in Dry Eyes and Ocular Migraines
As we have seen, migraines and dry eyes have many symptoms different from one another. However, it’s worth noting that they also share a lot in common. Some of the overlapping symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Eye or head pain
- Sensitivity to light (or photophobia)
- Excessive tearing of one or both eyes
- Somatosensory dysfunction (alteration in the perception of pain)
These symptoms can occur in people suffering from migraines or dry eyes separately.
One thing worth keeping in mind is that two conditions can cause the same, or similar, symptoms. But the conditions can still be independent of each other.
What Does a Dry Eye Migraine Feel Like?
A dry eye syndrome migraine is a migraine that occurs in a person suffering from dry eyes. Some of the shared symptoms would feel similar, so it might be difficult to tell which condition is causing which symptoms precisely.
Typically, it will feel like a combination of the shared symptoms listed above, with other symptoms exclusive to the migraine or dry eyes syndrome. A dry eye migraine aura would be felt like a migraine without dry eyes.
Dry eyes and migraines are each unpleasant on their own. But there is no evidence to suggest they compound each other’s shared symptoms.
For example, a dry eye headache is not likely to make the migraine headache more severe.
Can Dry Eyes Cause Migraines?
Dry eyes and migraines share many of the same symptoms, but it’s still disputed whether one causes the other.
A study by the Department of Ophthalmology at Selçuk University found a greater frequency of dry eyes in patients suffering from migraine. The findings also suggest that attacks of migraine may be worse in people suffering from dry eyes.
A large population-based study involving 72,969 patients also linked migraines with dry eyes. The study found that patients with migraine headaches were more likely to also be diagnosed with dry eyes.
Meanwhile, a Taiwanese study found that people who suffered from dry eyes had an increased probability of also being diagnosed with migraines.
Despite these studies showing a link, currently, there is still no solid proof that dry eyes and migraines are causes of one another.
How to Avoid Dry Eyes and Migraines
Since dry eye syndrome and migraines share some of the same triggers, they can also be avoided in similar ways.
Prevention is often the most effective cure. There are many simple and effective methods to help you avoid both migraines and dry eyes. These include:
- Recognizing and avoiding eye strain migraine triggers
- Avoiding low-humidity environments – low humidity causes tears to evaporate easily and more rapidly
- Keeping caffeine and alcohol to a minimum
- Avoiding smoke and other substances that can irritate the eyes
- Making sure to drink the required minimum daily water intake
- Ensuring regular and restful sleep
- Where possible, avoid strong air flow directly into the eyes, e.g. air conditioners, hair dryers, fans
- Take regular breaks when using screens or driving
- Avoid bright, harsh, and flashing/flickering lights
These small steps can help you prevent the combination of a dry eye migraine as well as dry eyes and migraines separately. They also go a long way toward preventing other minor issues, for instance, an eye strain headache after computer use.
Important: If you still suffer from a headache after computer use, it might be worth getting a simple eye check to rule out eyesight issues.
The Wrap Up
Although there is no evidence to suggest that dry eyes and migraines cause one another, they do share overlapping symptoms.
It’s not uncommon for people with dry eyes to also suffer from migraines. If you suffer migraines and also struggle with itchy or sandy eyes, it might be worth consulting your doctor to see if you also have dry eye syndrome.
Don’t forget that nutritional deficiencies can lead to dry eyes. In our digital age, eating enough nutrients for your eyes can be challenging even if you’re careful with your food choices.
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