What Does a Headache Behind Your Eyes Mean?

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

Migraines

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

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

If you get migraines, you can learn to avoid the things that trigger them. You might get them from:

If you catch a migraine early enough, you may be able to get relief with over-the-counter pain medicine like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen. Caffeine or ice packs may also help.

Sometimes only prescription drugs ease the pain. Some of the most common are triptans, which help most people within 2 hours if taken early enough. People who get chronic migraines often take medicine every day to help cut back on how many they have.

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 might also hurt. Tension headaches might last from 20 minutes to a few hours.

You can often get relief with over-the-counter pain medicine. It may also help to try a heating pad, warm shower, or rest until the headache goes away.

If you often get tension headaches, it can also help to find ways to handle stress. Learn relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing. Try not to skip meals or get too tired.

Cluster Headaches

These cause extreme pain around the 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 up to a year or more before they start again.

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

Breathing pure oxygen may give relief. Injected triptan drugs and lidocaine nose drops may also help. Some people take medicine such as verapamil to prevent attacks.

Sinus Headaches

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

Treat a sinus headache by clearing up the infection. Your doctor might suggest antibiotics and decongestants. Sinus headaches are rare. Migraine and cluster headaches are often misdiagnosed as 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 11, 2018

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."

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