At any given time, 15 per cent of Australians seek pain relief medication to soothe headaches, making them one of the most common health complaints. In addition to this, a whopping 4.9 million Australians suffer from migraines, characterised by more severe, debilitating pain.
Both headaches and migraines can have a direct relationship with vision. Vision is linked to the nervous system, meaning that changes in one can affect the other.
If you are one of the many Australians who suffer from headaches or migraines, understanding their connection to vision can help you better manage their severity and frequency.
The difference between headaches and migraines
It’s important to recognise the distinct differences between headaches and migraines.
Headaches typically occur as a result of tension or strain, with milder symptoms of discomfort, whereas migraines are accompanied by severe pain and sensory sensitivity.
Both headaches and migraines can be triggered by a number of vision factors, however migraine sufferers are more likely to experience more severe visual disturbances.
Vision problems that may trigger headaches and migraines
Digital eye strain
Digital eye strain is caused by excessive, prolonged use of screens and can trigger headaches or migraines. For most of us, our eyes prefer to focus further than six metres away, so viewing a computer screen for long periods of time forces the muscles in our eyes to work harder and without regular breaks this can lead to eyestrain and headaches.
According to the 2020 Vision Index report, 78 per cent of Australians have experienced eye strain while using a computer, tablet or smartphone, while almost half (49 per cent) wear prescription glasses or lenses to avoid eye strain and prevent headaches.
Long-sightedness is a common eye condition affecting 7.2 million Australians, where objects closer to you may appear blurry.
A person with long-sightedness may have clear vision, however suffer from headaches and tired eyes whilst reading, writing and using digital devices. The condition can be corrected with the use of glasses or contact lenses.
Headaches are the most severe sign that your glasses prescription is outdated or incorrect. An incorrect prescription causes your eyes to strain as they try to adapt to blurred vision in an attempt to make it clear.
It's important to keep your prescription up to date by having regular checks with your optometrist.
Seeing the signs of a migraine
Symptoms of migraines vary from person to person and in intensity, however one quarter of migraine sufferers will experience an ‘aura’.
Aura is the term used for sensory changes that occur in the lead up to a migraine, these include changes in vision, hearing, ability to speak and muscle movement.
One third of migraine sufferers report experiences of aura 24 to 48 hours before a migraine kicks in. In the case of vision impact, these experiences could involve flashing lights or blind spots in the visual field.
If you are sensing the onset of aura, you should stay in a quiet, dark room to avoid spurring on triggers. You could also try placing a cool cloth or ice pack on your forehead or the back of your neck to relieve some of the discomfort. Alternatively, medication can be prescribed by your GP and should be taken as soon as you feel the onset of a migraine coming.
What are ocular migraines?
An ocular migraine is a rare condition that affects one in 200 migraine sufferers, and can cause temporary vision loss or temporary blindness in one eye. Experts are not entirely sure what causes ocular migraines, however it is believed that spasms in blood vessels in the back of your eye or changes across the nerve cells in your retina are triggers.
Symptoms of ocular migraines include:
- Small or large blind spots that affect your central vision
- A flickering blind spot in the centre or near the centre of your vision field
- Wavy or zigzag ring of coloured light surrounding a central blind spot
- A blind spot that slowly migrates across your vision field.
How to limit the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines
Whilst everyone experiences migraines and headaches differently, there are a number of preventative measures people can take to reduce their frequency and severity, including:
- Ensuring you are looking after your general health with your GP
- Avoid anything that may trigger migraines such as excessive caffeine, stress
- If you wear glasses or contacts ensure your prescription is correct
- Limiting screen time to reduce the potential of developing digital eye strain
- Avoid sensory stimuli such as bright or strobing lights and strong smells
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or suffer from headaches and migraines, it is important to have regular eye examinations with your optometrist.
You can use our Find an Optometrist search function to find an optometrist near you today.