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Headache behind Eyes: Causes, Triggers & Treatment

Jamie Mendiola

Written By:

Jamie Mendiola

Updated: 18 April 2024 •  
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Have you ever felt an intense headache behind your eyes? If so – you’ll know it can be the most disrupting experience ever.
 
A headache behind the eyes can have several reasons behind it. Some might be common, while others might require medical attention. Today, we tackle the potential causes and treatment options.

8 common causes of headache behind the eyes

woman lying in bed having headache

Headaches might be common, but they have underlying causes behind them.

 

1. You may be feeling unusually tense

 
A tension headache is the most common type of headache you can get. It creates a dull ache on both sides of your head, across your forehead, and behind your eyes.
 
You might also feel some tension and soreness in your neck and shoulders. Tension headaches last for around 20 minutes or up to a few hours.
 
Tension headaches are usually caused by overworking on strenuous tasks. Like when you’ve been driving for extended periods. Interestingly, hot weather may also be a cause of tension headaches.
 

2. It may be a migraine

 
An unfortunate level-up from tension headaches is a migraine, which causes an extreme headache behind the eyes and on one side of the head.
 
Migraines can last from several hours up to a few days. When you have a migraine, you might be unable to do your usual physical activities since it might worsen.
 
Other symptoms often accompany migraines:
 

  • Throbbing sensations in the head
  • Pain and tension spread out in your face and neck
  • Nausea
  • Throwing up
  • Weakness in the body
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and sound

 

3. Sinusitis can also cause headaches

 
If you’re usually affected by allergy season, you might be familiar with sinusitis. While this might be considered a common cold, it can come with a sinus headache behind your eyes, nose, and cheeks.
 
A sinus headache can have similar symptoms to tension headaches or a migraine. In some cases, it’ll appear alongside fever and nasal congestion.
 

4. You’ve overstrained your eyes

 
man with glasses looking tired from headache

Working or focusing for too long can cause headaches.

 
When you stare at something for too long, such as a computer screen, your body will raise a red flag to let you rest. A typical example of such is a headache behind the eyes.
 
It can also include other symptoms like:
 

 

5. Glaucoma can cause pain behind the eyes

 
Glaucoma is a severe eye condition where the fluid pressure in your eye builds up. As a result, it can cause mild or severe pain behind your eyes.
 
This headache can come with other signs, like nausea and vomiting. Since its symptoms feel similar, you might mistake this for a simple migraine. It’s best to get a check-up with an eye doctor to see if you’re at risk of glaucoma.
 

6. Cluster headaches

 
Have you ever felt like the pain behind your eyes comes in cycles? You might be suffering from cluster headaches.
 
Cluster headaches create severe pain in one eye. It can last 30 minutes to 3 hours daily for weeks or months. After the cycle, the ache might not occur for a year until it starts up again.
 
This headache can be so intense that you might feel restless during the cycle. It also has other symptoms like watery eyes, congestion, and a flushed face.
 
Researchers also recorded that cluster headaches are uncommon but more likely to happen to men than women.[1]
 

7. Temporal arteritis

 
Another uncommon reason behind a headache is temporal arteritis. It’s when the blood vessels at the head’s side become inflamed, creating a headache behind the eyes.
 
Temporal arteritis is considered a severe condition. In this case, you’ll need proper medical treatment ASAP.
 
Other symptoms of temporal arteritis include:
 

  • Frequent, intense headaches, especially around the temples
  • Tenderness around the temples
  • Jaw pain while chewing or talking
  • Double vision
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes

 

8. Brain tumor or aneurysm

 
While rare, a brain tumor or aneurysm can cause a sudden, severe headache behind the eyes. Other symptoms often accompany it:
 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sudden sensitivity to light
  • Confusion
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Numbness or tingling in your limbs
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness

 
People who experience this often describe it as the worst headache they’ve ever experienced. If you feel sudden and severe pain like this, consult a doctor immediately.
 

Knowing the details of a headache behind the eyes

child with headache being checked for temperature

Get to know the details behind your headache, one question at a time.

 
A headache behind the eyes can range from numbingly intense to mild and manageable. To find out where it came from, consider the following questions:
 

  • Where is the pain located?
  •  

  • What type of headache do you feel? For instance, is it a pulsating sensation, or does it spread to your neck and shoulders?
  •  

  • How often do you get these headaches?
  •  

  • How long does the headache last?
  •  

  • What other symptoms do you experience along with the pain?

 
You can determine what type of headache you get based on your answers. It’s also best to discuss these and more with your doctor immediately.
 
In many instances, a headache can have a trigger behind it. Examples of headache triggers are:
 

  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of sleep and fatigue
  • Intense, bright lights
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Loud, constant noises
  • Strong smells
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Imbalanced hormones
  • Other illnesses and infections, like flu

 

How to treat a headache behind the eyes

sick lady with headache being tested for blood pressure

For severe migraines, check with your doctor ASAP.

 

1. Get your medical history checked

 
If a headache happens too often, it’s best to consult your doctor. They’ll check your medical history for any patterns that might’ve caused the pain. You can also ask them what type of headache you suffer from.
 
The doctor will likely conduct a physical exam, along with diagnostic tests. All these are to check for your vision, neural system, blood, and overall health.
 
Afterward, if the doctor’s diagnosis is too vague, they might refer you to a neurologist.
 

2. Ease the pain with medication

 
When the pain’s too much, don’t wait until it gets worse. Most over-the-counter pain medicine can help with temporary headaches, especially if taken early. Popular recommendations for headaches are NSAIDS or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Examples of such will be ibuprofen and naproxen. However – it’s always best to speak to a trusted health professional first.
 
Remember that these medications should only be a temporary stopgap for proper medical treatment.
 
If you’re suffering from chronic migraines, get a prescription from your doctor immediately. The same goes for sinus headaches. You’ll need to treat the underlying cause before the pain eases.
 

3. Wear proper prescription eyeglasses

 
Wearing a pair of specs with the wrong prescription can damage your vision and cause a nasty headache. The same goes for not wearing glasses if you need them. Your quints and eye strains will end up causing a headache.
 
So, make sure to get the right prescription glasses that you need. They should have the correct lens power to help with your vision. This is especially important if you have astigmatism, an eye condition that can cause headaches.
 

4. Create some lifestyle changes

 
Simple changes in your routine can do you a world of good. Try reducing stress levels with meditation, or exercise regularly. Studies have shown that aerobic exercises can decrease migraines.[2]
 
Another note to remember is your workplace. Since you spend more than half your day there, ensure your workspace is eye-friendly. Check out our complete guide about vision ergonomics to know more.
 

Easing headaches behind the eyes can take some work

A headache behind the eyes might be easy to ignore sometimes, but it can be a red flag for your health. You can only tell the root cause if you get a proper diagnosis.
 
At the very least, you must know what causes the pain and how to treat it. If it’s become too sudden or severe, call your doctor immediately.
 
And, of course, remember to adjust your routine for your health needs. Your body will thank you in your later years!
 

References

  • “Cluster headache”, Mayo Clinic
  •  

  • “The effect of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in migraine: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis”, Lemmens, J., De Pauw, J., Van Soom, T. et al. (2019)
Jamie Mendiola
Jamie is a writer and non-profit volunteer advocating for mental health. When not typing up a storm at work, you'll find her binge-watching Netflix or meditating like Yoda.