Headaches and Migraines 

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published December 20, 2020

Over 15 percent of adults in the U.S. complain of severe headaches or migraines.

What’s the difference between a headache and migraine? 

Headaches

A headache is described as an achy pressure in the temples, forehead, or even the upper neck.

The pain from a headache can be mild to severe and last anywhere from 10 minutes to several days.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. A tension headache feels like your head is being squeezed by a tight headband and is usually accompanied by eye pain as well.

Migraines

A migraine is a severe headache that generally causes more debilitating symptoms, such as difficulty speaking or thinking clearly.

Migraines are usually felt on one side of the face or head, and the pain can last for several hours to several days. Migraines may also be accompanied by numbness and tingling in the limbs or extremities, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Around 25 percent of migraine sufferers also experience visual disturbances such as flashing lights, zig-zag lines or blind spots, also known as a visual aura.

Visual auras typically warn of an oncoming migraine and last around one hour.

A visual aura can present in three different ways:

Positive visual aura

A positive visual aura causes you to see something that isn’t actually there, such as colorful squiggly lines, flashes, stars, or dots that can be stationary or move around your visual field or grow larger.

A visual hallucination is another type of positive visual aura.

Negative visual aura

A negative visual aura causes dark patches in your vision, such as blind spots, loss of peripheral vision, or even temporary total vision loss.

Altered visual aura

An altered visual aura causes kaleidoscope vision, or visual distortions that lead you to perceive straight lines as wavy or blurred, or large objects as small objects. Altered visual auras can also distort distance and color perception.

If you experience any of these visual disturbances, seek immediate medical attention to rule out a serious eye or medical conditions.

 

Can headaches and migraines stem from visual problems?

Yes.

A binocular vision problem, such as convergence insufficiency, occurs when the eyes are misaligned and do not point toward the same image simultaneously.

Binocular vision problems can cause eye strain or fatigue that lead to a headache, especially after reading, using the computer, or performing other near vision tasks.

If you are experiencing frequent headaches or migraines, schedule an appointment with your optometrist for a functional vision evaluation. 

Vision therapy

A functional vision evaluation will include an examination of your visual skills and binocular vision. With a comprehensive assessment of your visual skills, your eye doctor can determine if a visual disturbance is at the root of your discomfort.

If a vision problem is detected, a personalized program of vision therapy can improve your visual skills.

Be sure to inform your doctor of your past medical history, and if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain in the head or around the eyes
  • Stabbing or dull pain around the eyes
  • Headache in your eye brow
  • Headache that impacts your daily functioning or memory
  • Dizziness
  • Light sensitivity

If your headaches are caused by a binocular vision problem, standard treatments such as pain relievers, may provide temporary relief but will not be effective cure

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation 

Headaches that develop following any type of head injury or concussion may be related to specific visual disturbances and can be treated with neuro-optometric rehabilitation.

This therapeutic treatment program can retrain and strengthen your visual system to improve your binocular vision, for long lasting headache relief.

Headaches and migraines can be quite painful and significantly impact your ability to perform daily activities.

Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to determine if a binocular vision problem is causing your headaches, and if a neuro-optometric rehabilitation program is right for you.