Is There a Link Between Dry Eyes and Migraines?

How Helping Your Dry Eye May Help Your Headache

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There may be a connection between your migraines and your dry eyes, meaning that it may not just be a coincidence that you suffer from both. For instance, it's possible that your migraine attacks are irritated by your dry eye disease.

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease is a complex disease, involving impaired tear function, as well as eye surface abnormalities. The potential risks from having dry eye disease include:

  • chronic eye discomfort
  • vision impairment
  • negative impact in daily functioning and quality of life

Other names for dry eye disease include

  • keratoconjunctivitis sicca
  • dry eye syndrome
  • dysfunctional tear syndrome

Sometimes, the disorder exists by itself. Other times, it's part of an underlying illness, as in Sjogren's syndrome—an autoimmune condition that causes dry mouth and dry eyes.

Risk factors for dry eye disease include:

  • Older age
  • Female
  • Hormonal changes (mainly a decrease in androgens like testosterone)
  • Contact lens wearer
  • Certain medications (e.g. antihistamines, anticholinergics, estrogens, isotretinoin, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, amiodarone, nicotinic acid, certain eye medications)
  • Systemic or whole-body illnesses (e.g. diabetes mellitus, Parkinson's disease)
  • Low humidity environment

What Does Dry Eye Feel Like?

Sufferers of dry eyes often complain of a gritty, irritated, and/or burning sensation in their eyes.

They often feel like there is a foreign body in their eye and may also notice red eyes and excessive eye tearing. People with dry eyes may also complain of light sensitivity  or blurry vision to their doctor.

Is There a Connection Between Dry Eyes and Migraines?

In one 2012 study in Cornea, of 33 migraineurs and 33 control subjects (people with no headache disorder), there was an increased frequency of dry eye disease found in the migraine group compared to the control group.

Another 2015 study in Acta Neurologica Belgica found that dry eye was more likely to be present in a group of migraineurs than in the control group. But this finding did not reach statistical significance. Nevertheless, this same study did show that the presence of auras was more likely in migraineurs with dry eye. Also, migraine attacks were more frequent and longer in duration in those with dry eye compared to those without dry eye.

How Is Dry Eye Disease Treated?

The mainstay treatment for dry eyes is artificial tears. There are also environmental coping strategies like staying away from air conditioners or heaters or placing a humidifier in your bedroom and/or place of work. Making an effort to blink frequently when you are doing work on your computer or reading could also be helpful.

If the diagnosis is in question, or you are not getting relief from artificial tears and environmental strategies, seeing an ophthalmologist is your next best step.

Bottom Line

Remember, a link does not mean that one condition causes the other.

If you do suffer from irritated, dry eyes and migraines, speak with your healthcare provider. He may recommend an ophthalmology examination or a trial of artificial tears.

Sources

Celikbilek A, & Adam M. (2015). The relationship between dry eye and migraine. Acta Neurological Belgica, 115(3):329-33.

Koktekir BE, Celik G, Karalezli A, & Kal A. (2012). Dry eyes and migraines: is there really a correlation? Cornea, 31(12):1414-6.

Pal B, et al. (1989). A study of headaches and migraine in Sjögren's sydnrome and other rheumatic disorders. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 48:312–16.

Shtein RM. Dry eyes. In: UpToDate, Basow DS (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2014. Accessed September 22nd 2014.

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