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Can Dry Eyes Cause Headaches?

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A woman experiencing a headache rubbing her eyes after using her laptop for an extended period.

If you’ve experienced the discomfort of dry eyes, you’re likely familiar with the telltale signs—itching, burning, or a gritty feeling. However, there’s one other symptom that may feel out of place:

Dry eyes appear to be linked headaches, but it’s unclear whether they are a specific cause or simply shared symptoms of another condition. If you’re feeling the pain of dry eyes and headaches, an eye exam may help you find relief.

Understanding Dry Eye

Dry eyes occur when your eyes can’t maintain a healthy coating of tears, which can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms. And it’s not just an inconvenience; the chronic dryness can negatively impact your life quality, from productivity to personal well-being.

There are 2 types of dry eye:

  • Evaporative dry eye is the most common type of dry eye and occurs when your tears evaporate too fast to keep your eye fully hydrated.
  • Aqueous deficiency dry eye is a bit simpler in theory—it happens when your eyes just aren’t producing enough tears to keep up.

The causes of dry eyes can be varied, and sometimes it’s a combination of multiple factors. This can make it hard to pinpoint the root problem on your own even if the effects are plain to see. Some common factors include:

  • Age
  • Biological sex
  • Hot, dry, or windy environments
  • Excessive screen time
  • Overwearing contact lenses
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, and oral contraceptives
  • Medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, or Sjögren’s syndrome.

Dry Eye Symptoms

The symptoms of dry eye can range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye redness
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • A sensation of having something in your eyes
  • Watery eyes, which is your body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes

But where do headaches fall on the symptoms scale? The answer is still not fully understood.

The Link Between Dry Eyes & Headaches

Researchers puzzle over the link between dry eye and headaches, but there is evidence that a connection exists. For example, individuals suffering from migraine headaches are more likely to experience dry eyes as well, possibly due to a slightly different eye structure. This raises the intriguing question: do headaches cause dry eyes, or is it the reverse?

Dry eye’s signature inflammation may trigger migraines in those already susceptible. Additionally, dry eye and headaches may serve as symptoms of the same underlying issues. For instance, both are common symptoms of digital eye strain.

Treatments for Dry Eyes

Finding relief for dry eyes and the headaches they can cause starts with an accurate diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan. At Sage Eyecare, we utilize tools such as the MYAH from TopCon Healthcare to provide accurate diagnostics for dry eye and overall eye health. Understanding why your eyes are dry helps us find a personalized solution for your symptoms.

Radiofrequency (RF) Treatment

RF therapy is a gentle, non-invasive treatment that addresses the root cause of evaporative dry eye, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). It works by applying controlled radiofrequency energy to the eyelids, gently heating your meibomian glands and stimulating collagen production. 

This heat melts the solidified meibum blocking the glands, allowing the oil to flow more freely into the tears. The result is an improved lipid layer in the tear film, which reduces tear evaporation and enhances eye comfort.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy

IPL therapy is much like RF treatment in how it targets the meibomian gland dysfunction. Instead of a radio frequency, it delivers precise pulses of light to the skin around the eyelids.

IPL therapy stimulates the meibomian glands, encouraging them to produce healthier, more effective tear film. This improvement in tear quality helps to alleviate dry eye symptoms and promotes long-term eye health.

Medicated Eye Drops

Prescription medications can reduce inflammation in the eye’s surface. By addressing the inflammation, these eye drops help stimulate the eye to produce more natural tears, offering relief from dryness and improving overall eye comfort.

These drops are typically anti-inflammatory, lubricating, and use immunomodulators to alleviate symptoms.

Artificial Tears

Available over-the-counter, artificial tears are a convenient and effective option for temporary dry eye relief. They’re designed to mimic real tears and work by providing additional lubrication to the eye’s surface. This helps alleviate symptoms of dryness, irritation, and discomfort, making them particularly useful for people experiencing occasional dry eyes due to computer use or dry environments.

Warm Compresses and Lid Massages

By applying a warm compress to your closed eyelids, you can help loosen the oils in the meibomian glands, improving tear quality and flow. For more effective treatment, you can get eye masks with microbeads that can be warmed in the microwave. As a bonus, this not only soothes the eyes by reducing dryness and irritation but the warmth can help relieve headaches. 

After using the masks, massage your eyelids using wipes to help remove debris and express oil glands.

Tip for Preventing Dry Eyes

Simple changes in your daily habits can make a substantial difference in managing dry eye symptoms. Examples include:

  • Reminding yourself to blink when using screens for long periods
  • Taking regular breaks during visually demanding tasks
  • Using a humidifier to keep the air moist
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, as omega-3 deficient glands are more likely to become inflamed and clogged and long-term consumption can add in a healthy tear film. 
  • Wearing wraparound glasses outdoors to protect against the wind
A woman shakes hands with her optometrist in front of a wall of eyeglasses frames

The Path to Relief Starts Here

Dry eyes don’t just affect your vision—they can affect your entire life! Their link with headaches is still hazy, but what’s crystal clear is how you don’t need to suffer through dry eyes.

At Sage Eyecare, we’ve helped many people just like you find long-lasting relief. If you’ve been suffering from dry eye symptoms, take action today to put an end to the discomfort. Book a consultation and begin your path to clearer, more comfortable vision.


Written by
Dr. Mae Chiu

Dr. Mae Chiu obtained her Honours Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Optometry degrees from the University of Waterloo. She completed clinical externships in Hong Kong and in Canada specializing in ocular pathologies such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. She received further training in the areas of specialty multifocal contact lens fittings and co-management of refractive laser and cataract surgeries.

Dr. Chiu is certified for prescribing therapeutic agents. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Optometrists and Ontario Association of Optometrists. Dr. Chiu enjoys travelling and trying out different cuisines from all over the world. Dr. Chiu is fluent in English and Cantonese.

More Articles By
Dr. Mae Chiu

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Sage Eyecare is located in Mississauga just off the Queensway with easy access from Etobicoke. Plenty of parking is available in the lot outside of our building. 

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  • Etobicoke/Mississauga, ON L4Y 4C5

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