Eyeglasses and Headaches, it’s Time to Break Up

A friend of mine recently complained that she had purchased a pair of beautiful navy blue Fendi eyeglasses, but could hardly wear them due to headaches that occurred after wearing them for a few hours. I wasn’t sure what to tell her (except that the glasses looked great), but the whole conversation got me thinking about all the ways headaches and vision are related. Along the way, I learned a few fun (but kind of unrelated) facts. For example, in one survey more than half of the women who responded said they got headaches from wearing ponytails. Hats, goggles, headbands, heavy earrings, helmets and the Muslim hijab are also a common cause of headaches. A less common cause? Sex. Apparently, there is such a thing as a coital headache, brought on by the act itself. These are coincidentally described as explosive headaches because of their quick onset. In fact, one man suffered from these except for when his wife was pregnant. But back to the topic at hand, we did find several ways vision and headaches are related.

Headaches and Eye Strain

The most common way has to do with eye strain, which is increasingly common with the advent of so much screen time. It happens because the tiny muscles that control focus can become fatigued, or can even spasm if put under too much stress. One way to fix this is to force yourself to look away from close tasks at least every 20 minutes, preferably out a window or at something else far away. Eye strain could also mean that you need to visit the optometrist or ophthalmologist. If you’re always straining to see, it’s no wonder that your eyes are getting tired. Eye strain symptoms include itching eyes, tired eyes, burning eyes, eyes that won’t focus and increased sensitivity to light. It can also cause headaches, back aches and neck aches related to having poor posture while you try to compensate for being unable to see. Eye strain is a type of extracranial headache, according to Britannica.

Headaches and New Glasses

Counterintuitively, eye strain can also occur just after you get a new prescription, and there are multiple reasons for it. One of these things must have been happening to my friend.

  • Your Eyes Are Adjusting: If you have a radical change in your prescription or are switching between glasses and contacts, you’re giving different focusing muscles a workout. This can be uncomfortable at first, but you should fully adjust within 2-7 days.
  • Incorrect Prescriptions: Eye care specialists know about all the parts of a prescription, but the general public does not. In addition to finding the correct refraction for your eyes, you need glasses fitted for the correct pupillary distance (space between the pupils) and vertex difference (space between the lens and cornea). If you’re trying a new kind of frame, these measurements could be off, and that means your prescription needs to be adjusted. Watch for pain around the eyes, across the forehead, and at the temples.
  • Poorly Fitting Eyeglasses: Almost every patient needs their new frames adjusted slightly to fit their face. You need the correct distance between the frames and the curve of the earpiece, for example, or headaches could occur. The same is true for the tightness of the earpieces and the balance of the glasses on the face. If glasses are crooked, vertex and papillary measurements could be off. Some kinds of frames can require extra adjustment over time.
  • Heavy Eyeglasses: We love that bigger frames are becoming popular, for both sunglasses and regular eyeglasses. Bigger lenses mean a bigger range of corrected vision and, in the case of sunglasses, better sun protection and fewer wrinkles. It’s also worth saying that larger glasses are better, proportionally, on almost all faces. Remember the rule of thirds! Unfortunately, bigger glasses mean heavier glasses, and this can cause headaches. We recommend paying extra for the lightest lenses available and, if you’re prone to headaches, choosing smaller and lighter frames.

Don’t Just Live With the Pain

Headaches are common, and we can’t run to the doctor’s office for every ache and pain. But if your glasses cause headaches every time you wear them, or if you find that your posture is suffering because you can’t see, get the problem fixed. Glasses should be a health aid, not a source of discomfort. For the eye care specialists out there, pass this news along. You might discover that your patients have vision-related symptoms they aren’t telling you about.

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