Updated on 

November 2, 2021

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Headache Behind Eyes

Key Takeaways

  • There are many different causes of headaches that occur behind the eyes. 
  • Many headache remedies are available over-the-counter or involve behavioral or lifestyle changes. 
  • In some cases, the pain or frequency of a headache behind the eyes warrants a visit to the doctor. 
  • If you experience ongoing headaches or the measures you take to alleviate the pain don’t work, you should seek professional medical attention.

What Does a Headache Behind the Eyes Mean?

Headaches occur in all parts of the head. Some even affect the neck and shoulders. 

It’s common for someone experiencing a headache to feel pain in their face, especially around or behind their eyes. 

Headaches that affect your eyes might also affect vision and sensitivity to light. 

Understanding what the location of your headache means can help you alleviate the pain and avoid the same type of headache in the future.

Most of the time, a headache behind the eyes does not mean anything serious. Sometimes it’s linked to vision problems or eye strain. However, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if you frequently experience headaches that involve your eyes. 

7 Causes of Headache Behind the Eyes

Here are seven common causes of headaches behind the eyes: 

1. Tension

Tension headaches are a common type of headache and usually aren’t a cause for concern. 

However, they’re uncomfortable and can interfere with daily life. 

Typically, people prone to tension headaches experience about one or two a month. Some people experience them far more frequently.

Symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • Tight-feeling or pressure in the forehead and behind the eyes
  • Dull pain
  • Neck pain
  • Scalp tenderness  

2. Migraines

Migraines cause pain, pressure, and severe pain behind the eyes. They also affect vision and other senses. 

Many people experience migraine pain severe enough to diminish their quality of life. A migraine headache causes excruciating pain and can be similar to an illness that prevents you from performing your usual daily tasks. 

Other symptoms of migraines include:

  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Impaired vision
  • Weakness

3. Cluster Headaches

A cluster headache includes multiple short and painful headaches. Most last for less than an hour but can cause hours-long pain as they “cluster” together in occurrence. 

Cluster headaches trigger piercing headache pain, usually behind one eye. Other symptoms include:

  • Swollen eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Excessive tearing

4. Eyestrain

Sometimes problems with vision are the cause of headaches behind the eyes. 

Eyestrain is also associated with too much time spent looking at computer screens, phone screens, or televisions. 

Other causes of headaches linked to the eyes include:

  • Scleritis. Inflammation of the white coating of the eye
  • Optic neuritis. Inflammation of the optic nerve
  • Grave’s disease. An autoimmune disorder that affects the eyes
  • Glaucoma. An eye disease that affects the optic nerve
  • Dry eyes. This occurs when the eyes do not naturally produce enough tears to keep eyes properly lubricated

5. Sinus Infection

Sinus infections, sometimes called sinusitis, occur when the lining of the sinuses is inflamed or there is congestion. 

Typically, pressure across the cheeks, forehead, and behind the eyes accompanies congestion. This headache pain is usually uncomfortable but not unbearable. 

Sinus headaches also trigger:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Fatigue
  • Aching in upper teeth
  • Worsened pain when lying down

6. Poor Posture

Poor posture leads to misalignments in the soft tissues. Long-term, poor posture leads to weakening of the muscles in the surrounding area. This causes frequent headaches behind the eyes.

7. Brain Aneurysm

Brain aneurysms cause intense pain. They occur when the artery wall of the brain weakens and causes hemorrhage or stroke.

Symptoms of Headache Behind the Eyes

Symptoms of headaches behind the eyes include:

  • Red, teary eyes
  • Tight, aching, or intense head pain
  • Neck and shoulder soreness
  • Face redness and/or sweating
  • Swelling on one side of the face
  • Vision problems
  • Squinting

Potential Triggers of Headache Behind the Eyes

There are several potential triggers of headaches behind the eyes, including:

  • Eyestrain
  • Fatigue
  • Bright lights
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hormonal changes
  • Alcohol use
  • Hunger
  • Exposure to strong odors, especially chemicals like perfume or cologne
  • Emotional stress
  • Infection
  • Vision problems

Often, the cause of your headache affects what triggers it. Several things can trigger migraines, including:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Certain foods, including chocolate, alcohol, and MSG
  • Stress
  • Weather changes
  • Strong smells
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Hunger

Several things trigger tension headaches, including:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Eyestrain
  • Poor posture
  • Problems with the neck or jaw
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration

Several things trigger cluster headaches, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Medications

Treatment for Headache Behind the Eyes 

Treatment for headaches behind the eyes is based on the cause. However, one of the best treatments for any type of headache is to prevent it before it happens. This means avoiding triggers and acting fast at the first sign of pain. 

Most people treat mild to moderate headaches with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. These include acetaminophen, naproxen, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. 

Note: OTC medications should only be used occasionally. Although generally safe, they can trigger side effects, including rebound headaches.

Other remedies that help relieve the pain associated with most headaches include:

  • Daily exercise
  • Avoiding or reducing alcohol use
  • Avoiding processed foods
  • Eliminating the use of tobacco
  • Avoiding or reducing caffeine intake

People experiencing severe or frequent headaches might benefit from prescription medications. Doctors sometimes prescribe muscle relaxants, beta-blockers, or antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) to alleviate tension headaches. These medications can also help reduce the risk of developing future headaches.

Tension Headaches

The pain from a tension headache might be eased by:

  • Warm shower
  • Heating pad
  • Rest
  • Stress reduction exercises like yoga and deep breathing
  • Adequate rest
  • Migraines

For many people, the only relief for migraine headaches is a prescription medication. Drugs prescribed to help with migraines include triptans such as:

  • Almotriptan (Axert)
  • Eletriptan (Relpax)
  • Rizatriptan (Maxalt)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are also treated with medications, including:

  • Sumatriptan injections
  • Lidocaine nose drops
  • Verapamil
  • Prednisone

Sinus headaches usually require antibiotics if related to an infection and decongestants to alleviate the sinus pressure causing the pain. 

Additionally, symptoms can be managed by breathing warm, moist air and with warm compresses.

Headaches Related to Vision Issues

The pain from vision-related headaches might be eased by:

  • Taking frequent breaks from screens
  • Rest
  • Artificial tears eye drops
  • Eyeglasses prescription update

When to See a Doctor

If you notice your headaches continue or worsen even with the appropriate treatment methods, you should speak to your doctor. The problem might be associated with a more serious condition.

6 Cited Research Articles
  1. (1) “Headache behind Eye.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 5 Apr. 2021.
  2. (2) “Vision Changes with Headache: When to Seek Help.” Mayo Clinic.
  3. (3) “Eye Pain When to See a Doctor.” Mayo Clinic.
  4. (4) “Chronic Eyestrain Headaches Signal the Need for an Eye Exam - UAB Medicine News - UAB Medicine.” www.uabmedicine.org.
  5. (5) “What Is a Headache?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 22 Sept. 2021.
  6. (6) Harvard Health Publishing. “4 Ways to Tame Tension Headaches.” Harvard Health.
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/kelly/
Author: Kelly Jamrozy  | UPDATED November 2, 2021
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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