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Headache Behind Eye

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 19, 2020

What Is a Headache Behind the Eye?

If you feel pain behind your eyes, there's a good chance it could be a specific type of headache.

Causes of Headache Behind the Eye

Migraines

These headaches often begin with pain around your eye and temple. They can spread to the back of your head. You might also have an aura, which can include visual signs like a halo or flashing lights that sometimes come before the pain starts.

You may also have nausea, a runny nose, or congestion. You could be sensitive to light, sounds, or smells. Migraine headaches can last several hours to a few days.

Tension headaches

These are the most common types of headaches. They usually cause a dull pain on both sides of your head or across the front of your head, behind your eyes. Your shoulders and neck may also hurt. Tension headaches might last 20 minutes to a few hours.

Cluster headaches

These cause severe pain around your eyes, often around just one eye. They usually come in groups. You may have several of them every day for weeks and then not have any for a year or more before they start again.

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Along with the pain, you may also have watery eyes, congestion, and a red, flushed face. The attacks last 30 to 60 minutes and are so strong that you may be restless and can't stand still while they happen. Cluster headaches aren't very common and mostly happen in men.

Sinus headaches

A sinus infection (sinusitis) can cause a headache around your eyes, nose, forehead, cheeks, and upper teeth. This is where your sinuses are. You’ll often also have a fever, congestion, and a thick nasal discharge. The pain usually gets worse throughout the day.

True sinus headaches are rare. Migraine and cluster headaches are often mistaken for sinus headaches.

Eyestrain

This is when your eyes get tired from working too hard, doing things like staring at a computer screen or driving for a long time.

Other symptoms can include:

Eyestrain isn't serious and usually goes away when you rest your eyes.

Headache Behind the Eye Triggers

Different things may set off each type of headache.

You might get migraines because of:

Things that may give you a tension headache include:

  • Stress
  • Eyestrain
  • Poor posture
  • Problems with the muscles or joints in your neck or jaw
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration or missing a meal
  • Bright sunlight
  • Noise
  • Certain smells

Cluster headaches are often triggered by alcohol, smoking, or certain medications.

Headache Behind the Eye Treatment

Learning to avoid your triggers may prevent headaches or make them less painful. If you do get one, there are many kinds of treatments.

Medication for headache behind the eye

Over-the-counter pain medicine can ease occasional headaches. It may even help with migraines if you take it early enough. Doctors often recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). But remember that taking them too often can trigger overuse headaches.

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If you get frequent tension headaches, your doctor may prescribe medication. Antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil) help many people.

Sometimes, prescription drugs are the only things that will ease migraine pain. Some of the most common are triptans such as almotriptan (Axert), eletriptan (Relpax), rizatriptan (Maxalt), sumatriptan (Imitrex), and zolmitriptan (Zomig). They help most people within 2 hours if taken early enough. People who get chronic migraines often take medicine like beta-blockers or antidepressants every day to help cut back on how many they have.

Breathing pure oxygen may bring relief of cluster headaches. Injected triptans like sumatriptan and lidocaine nose drops might also help. Some people take medicines such as verapamil (Calan, Verelan) or prednisone to prevent attacks.

Treat a sinus headache by clearing up the infection. Your doctor might suggest antibiotics and decongestants.

Home remedies for headache behind the eye

Caffeine or ice packs may help with migraine pain.

For a tension headache, try a heating pad or a warm shower, or rest until the headache goes away. It can also help to find better ways to handle stress. Learn relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing. Try not to skip meals or get too tired.

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When you have a sinus infection, breathe in warm, moist air from a vaporizer or a pot of boiling water to ease congestion. Warm compresses can also help.

If your eyes are often strained, take breaks and blink more. Artificial tears may also refresh your eyes. Check with your doctor to make sure your vision prescription is up to date, and ask about exercises to strengthen eye muscles.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: "Headache: When to worry, what to do."

Cleveland Clinic: "Headaches in Adults."

National Headache Foundation: "The Complete Headache Chart."

Mayo Clinic: "Eyestrain."

National Health Service (U.K.): “Tension-type headaches.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cluster headache.”

UpToDate: “Acute treatment of migraine in adults,” “Preventive treatment of migraine in adults.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Sinus Headaches,” “Headaches.”

University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center: “Eye Strain.”

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