We all know that headaches can signal it’s time for an eye exam. But what is the connection between a migraine and vision care? Sometimes it’s just referred pain to your eyes, but other times it could mean something more. Learn what to watch out for and some simple tips to help ease your pain.
A more common problem than you might think
More than 37 million people in the United States experience migraines in any given year– so many that June has been named National Migraine Awareness Month. These severe pains in the head may last for hours or even days. In addition to a throbbing headache, other symptoms include:
- Unusual sensitivity to light, noises, and smells
Migraines occur in at least 15% to 20% of the population, and are experienced equally by men and women.
1 A migraine can be triggered by certain physical or environmental factors, such as foods, drinks, activities and exercise, medications, stress, bright or flickering lights, odors, hormonal changes and sleep (too much or too little).
2 They can be exacerbated by outside factors such as staring too long at a computer or at the screen of a mobile device, poor lighting and muscle tension from sitting for long periods.
Types of migraines that can affect your vision
Migraines with Aura
About 20% of people who suffer from migraines experience symptoms in advance of a migraine known as auras. They may see flashing lights, wavy lines or dots, and they may have blurry vision or blind spots up to an hour before the pain begins. Migraine sufferers also report visual or auditory hallucinations and disruptions in smell, taste, or touch. Numbness, a “pins and needles” sensation, or difficulty in recalling or speaking the correct word can also signal the onset of a migraine.
Ocular or “retinal” migraines, where sufferers temporarily lose sight in one eye, are far less common. But those who experience these migraine symptoms should seek medical help. Vision loss could signal a condition more serious than a migraine.
Can an eye exam help?
Pain associated with a migraine in and around the eye is usually referred pain from the headache rather than the result of an eye problem. However, an optometrist can evaluate the nerves in the eyes to confirm that increased pressure in the head or eyes is not related to the migraines. It’s also important for migraine sufferers to correct vision issues that may exacerbate migraines or trigger headaches.
If you or someone you know suffers from migraines that involve your vision and eyes, talk to an eye care provider about the symptoms to ensure you receive the treatment you need.
- If your migraine attacks are triggered by visual stimuli such as fluorescent lights or computer screens, tinted glasses may help.
- Keep a journal of what you eat and drink, and what you were doing leading up to your migraine. The journal can help you and your doctor identify migraine triggers.
- Take breaks from looking at your computer screen or the screen on your mobile device as this could make your migraines worse.
- Get annual eye exams to keep your vision healthy.