Headache Behind the Eyes: 11 Causes and 7 Remedies

Headaches that occur behind the eye can be a symptom of an eye problem, headache or something more serious. Read on to learn what you need to know about this common health condition.

Headaches that occur behind eyes or both eyes can be sharp, dull, throbbing, intense, burning or explosive. Cluster headaches generally cause pain behind the eyes and occur in cycles. Migraine headaches are also known to cause pain and pressure behind the eyes.

Causes of Headache Behind Eyes

Many other symptoms can occur with eye pain, such as redness, eye dryness or excessive tearing, numbness or weakness of the face, double vision or vision loss, sinus pressure and possibly fever. The cause of these symptoms is diverse and we will discuss many of these disease entities below.

1. Dry Eyes

When the eyes become dry, irritation and discomfort ensue. This is very common for those who work on computers all day. Itching, burning and sharp pain may also be felt. Prolonged dryness can result in a rush of excessive tears in response to the irritation and as the eye tries to protect itself from further drying. To remedy this problem, keep a bottle of artificial tears on hand. Severe cases require a trip to the eye doctor to explore other causes and to consider prescription eye medications.

2. Vision Problems

Vision problems often lead to eyestrain and discomfort. Headaches commonly occur with a variety of eye conditions such as astigmatism, presbyopia (near-sighted) and hyperopia (far-sighted). An eye doctor will be able to determine if there is a vision issue causing headaches.

3. Scleritis

The sclera is a thin film that covers the outer surface of the eye. Redness, burning and headache behind eye are commonly felt and severe cases can threaten vision. Medical syndromes such as Rheumatoid arthritis and connective tissue diseases can increase the risk of developing scleritis. Intense redness and pain should prompt a visit to the eye doctor.

Treatment options include prescription non-steroidal eye drops, steroid eye drops, antibiotics if any infection is present and other immune modulating medications such as methotrexate or adalimumab (Humira) depending on the underlying cause.

4. Orbital Inflammatory Syndrome

The orbit is the "house" for the eye and contains nerves, blood vessels, lymphatics, fat and the muscles that move the eye. Inflammation can occur but the exact cause is difficult to determine. A CT scan and blood tests can rule out infection. Pain and discomfort occur when looking side to side or touching the area around the eye. Treatment is supportive and OTC anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help.

5. Cranial Nerve Palsies

Multiple cranial nerves arise from the brain and provide the sense of vision we are all accustomed to having. When one or more of the nerves are inflamed, injured or compressed vision changes. Common symptoms include double vision, drooping of the eyelid, changes of the pupil size and even significant pain. Diabetes is one of the most common causes of cranial nerve palsies. Treatment is directed at correcting the underlying cause and ruling out more serious causes such as a stroke or brain tumor.

6. Optic Neuritis

This condition is felt to be a precursor to Multiple Sclerosis. People will experience eye pain, numbness, decreased visual acuity and even a change in the perception of colors. Headaches can be intense and treatment is aimed at alleviating pain and using steroids to decrease the inflammation.

7. Tension Headache

Tension headaches are notorious for causing headaches behind the eyes. The sensation is often described as band-like and is associated with stress, fatigue of the neck muscles or injury. Treatment includes rest, massage, OTC medications such as ibuprofen or Aleve and ice or heat applied to the neck or base of the head.

8. Migraine

Migraine sufferers frequently report pain behind the eye and a unilateral headache that is throbbing and intense in character. An ocular migraine produces flashes, squiggles or other transient visual obscuration and may or may not develop into a full-blown migraine headache. A variety of options are useful for treating migraines and include rest, OTC medications such as ibuprofen, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and Botox.

9. Sinusitis

There are a number of sinus cavities in the face and head and they are centered around the eyes. Headaches behind the eyes are a common sensation that accompanies sinusitis. This condition can occur from allergies or infections. Treatment is geared towards relieving the congestion, treating the pain and using antibiotics when infection is present.

10. Cluster Headaches

These headaches result in extreme pain behind the eye on one side of the head. Males experience this type of headache more often and family history plays a role as well. Tearing and cyclic recurrence of headaches over several days is a common theme. Treatment includes rest and pain medication. Supplemental oxygen has been shown effective for some who suffer from cluster headaches.

11. Hormones

Fluctuation of hormones is clearly linked to headaches. Migraine sufferers often report an increase in pain around the time of the menstrual cycle. Hormone fluctuations also cause chemical changes in the blood vessels of the brain. Certain medications can also exert this effect. It is believed that the hormonal mediated dilation and contraction of blood vessels results in headaches.

How to Deal with Headache Behind Eyes

1. Exercise for Pain Relieving

Mild to moderate exercise is an effective way to deal with headaches behind the eyes. Exercise causes the release of natural endorphins that relieve pain. Think of these chemicals as the body's own version of morphine or similar pain relievers.

This video will show you how:

2. For Migraines

Rest and sleep are the first step in treating a migraine. Keep the room dark, quiet and cool. Don't oversleep as a disruption in a normal sleep pattern can trigger migraines. Have a cup of coffee or black tea as the caffeine content is often enough to decrease the intensity of the headache. Eat regular meals to prevent fluctuations in blood sugar. Other options include ice packs, massage, taking extra vitamins and using OTC medications such as ibuprofen, Tylenol or Aleve.

3. For Sinusitis

Try using steam to relieve the congestion and pressure behind the eyes. Using a saline nose spray or similar is also effective at treating this condition. Regular use of nasal spray or a Neti pot has been shown to decrease the recurrence of sinusitis.

4. For Cluster Headaches

Supplemental oxygen is highly effective for rapidly alleviating cluster headaches. The mechanism relaxes constricted blood vessels and for those suffering from cluster headaches it can work wonders. Some recommend a trial of sumatriptan or dihydroergotamine as an option to relieve the pain from a headache behind the eye. These medications are commonly used for migraine treatment as well.

5. Avoid Certain Foods, Alcohol and Tobacco

Alcohol, tobacco and certain foods can trigger both cluster and migraine headaches. Preservatives such as nitrates and monosodium glutamate are clearly linked to headaches. These substances are found in processed meats and food colorings. Certain foods such as soy are high in plant estrogens and may trigger headaches in sensitive people.

6. OTC and Medical Help

There are a variety of over-the-counter options for headache medication. Talk to your doctor as ask the pharmacist for a specific recommendation based on the type of headache you are experiencing. Options include ibuprofen, Tylenol, Aleve and other combination medications with caffeine or other additives. Headaches that do not resolve with OTC medications or last for several days warrant a call to your doctor. They may prescribe something stronger or request an office visit based on your symptoms.

7. Other Remedies

Other complimentary therapies are often effective in decreasing or alleviating headache behind eyes. Try massage therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture or relaxation techniques. If the eyes are the culprit, a visit to your eye doctor often solves the problem.

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