Headaches behind the eyes are common, and they may result from underlying health issues ranging from eye strain to migraine.
Pain behind the eyes can affect one or both sides, and it may occur with light sensitivity and other types of discomfort. A doctor can identify the cause of a headache behind the eyes and recommend the best course of treatment.
Keep reading for more information about the causes of headaches behind the eyes and how to treat them.
A migraine headache can cause extreme pain on one side of the head, sometimes behind one eye. This pain can last for
In addition to a migraine headache, a person may experience:
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light and sound
- mood changes
- visual disturbances, known as aura
Doctors are unsure what precisely causes migraine. However, changes to nerve signaling and blood vessels in the eye may play an important role in its development.
Outside triggers are often the catalyst for migraine attacks. Common migraine triggers include:
- lack of sleep
- hormonal changes
- environmental factors, such as strong smells, smoke, or flickering lights
- consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
- strong emotions, such as stress or anxiety
Computer eye strain, also known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome, is an umbrella term that includes several vision-related conditions. People will often experience discomfort in their eyes due to looking at electronic screens for prolonged periods.
Alongside discomfort in one or both eyes, a person that spends large, uninterrupted periods looking at screens or digital devices may experience any of the following symptoms:
- dry eyes
- neck and shoulder pain
- blurry vision
A person may only experience discomfort behind their eyes after looking at digital screens for long stretches, and symptoms may improve once they stop doing so. However, the prevalence of these computer-related symptoms is growing rapidly, and if a person experiences continued symptoms, they might require medical assistance.
Focusing and refocusing on a screen for long periods can cause eye strain, which can also result from problems with vision.
A person will typically experience eye strain after focusing on a single object or task for a prolonged period. Dimly lit environments and tiredness can also cause eye strain.
Sinusitis is inflammation or congestion of the sinuses. This can create pressure, causing pain behind the eyes. Depending on the location of the inflammation, sinusitis may cause pain behind both or either eye.
Sinusitis can also cause pain and pressure in other parts of the face, such as the forehead and cheeks.
Other common symptoms of sinusitis include:
- nasal congestion
- pain that worsens when the person is lying down
- aching in the upper teeth
Sinusitis is a common condition, and pain will typically clear up when the overall congestion does. This will typically take 2–3 weeks.
Sinusitis is often the result of allergies or a virus trapped in the sinuses because of congestion. This can result in face pressure and headaches. Sinusitis may also have bacterial or fungal causes, although these are often associated with immune deficiencies, such as HIV.
These headaches are painful and occur on one side of the head. This may result in sharp or dull throbbing pain behind only one eye.
Often, additional symptoms develop on the same side as the headache. These symptoms can include:
- a stuffy or runny nostril
Doctors are unsure of the cause of cluster headaches, and there has not been extensive research, though these headaches are not uncommon.
Researchers generally believe that more males experience cluster headaches than females. There may also be a genetic component, and some people may have a higher risk than others.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and they are more common in females than males.
Some people experience tension headaches one to two times per month, while others experience them more often. If this continues for 3 months or longer, doctors classify these headaches as chronic.
Tension headaches usually cause pain behind both eyes and a feeling of pressure around the forehead. They can occur at any time and can last from 30 minutes to several hours. In severe cases, a person may experience symptoms of a tension headache for several days.
Also, a tension headache may cause tenderness in the scalp. The pain of a tension headache may be dull, occur in the forehead, and extend to the neck.
Tension headaches develop for a variety of reasons, including:
- lack of sleep
- staring at a screen for a long time
- driving long distances
- muscle contractions in the neck or head
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can often relieve mild or moderate headaches, but prescription medication may be necessary when the pain is severe.
A doctor may prescribe antidepressants, antiseizure medications, or oral birth control pills as preventive measures for people who experience frequent migraine headaches. A person may find relief from a migraine episode by resting in a darkened room. Placing a cool, damp towel over the eyes may help, as well.
Muscle relaxants are a short-term option for the management of tension headaches.
If a person has headaches caused by bacterial sinusitis, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. However, nasal decongestant sprays are a good option if sinusitis is due to an allergy or viral infection.
People can often relieve eye strain due to long-term computer or other screen use by following the 20-20-20 rule.
Addressing the underlying causes of headaches behind the eyes can help a person manage them at home.
Avoiding the following triggers may help you to prevent the onset of migraine:
- loud noises
- strong odors
- bright lights
- lack of sleep
If you experience discomfort behind the eyes as a result of tension headaches, the following tips may be helpful:
- avoid muscle strains in the head and neck
- manage your stress levels
- get a good amount of sleep each night
- avoid excessive screen time
In cases where sinusitis is the cause of headaches behind the eyes, trying the following things might help:
- limiting or avoiding caffeine
- avoiding alcohol
- stopping using tobacco products
- exercising regularly
- avoiding processed foods
If a person experiences headaches behind the eyes frequently, they should see a doctor. The doctor may recommend an eye examination and prescribe treatments that are not available OTC.
Making lifestyle adjustments may also prevent the pain from recurring.
Headaches behind the eyes can be painful and occur with other symptoms. They can stem from various health issues, and identifying the cause is the first step toward treatment.
It may also help to avoid specific triggers, such as alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco products, and make other lifestyle adjustments.
A doctor can identify the underlying cause and provide additional support, including medication.