Are Your Glasses Causing Your Headaches?

Vision is the result of a complicated network of nerves, muscles, and eye structures that all work together to create picture-perfect images. Wearing the wrong glasses can cause these structures to malfunction, causing headaches or migraines. Here's how it works:

Images enter the eye through the cornea (a clear membrane that covers the lens), travel through a focusing lens (the colored part of the eye and pupil), and strike a light sensitive surface (optic retina) that converts it to nerve impulses. These impulses then travel to the optical center in the brain (occipital cortex) where they are converted into the images we see.

Muscles around the lens contract or relax to change the shape of the lens. Contracted eye muscles make the lens rounder to bring nearby objects into focus. Relaxed eye muscles make the lens flatter so it can focus on far away objects. Muscles are also responsible for eye movement, letting us look up and down, side to side, and allowing both eyes to move in a synchronized, coordinated way. Muscles bring the images from each eye together to form one picture (fusion). 

Anything that makes it challenging for eyes to stay focused and forces muscles to work too hard can cause dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.

When people consult with an eye doctor for problems with their vision, they may receive a prescription for corrective lenses—contact lenses or glasses. These corrective lenses alter and assist their eye's focusing mechanism and change the way images reach the retina. But if the corrective lens is too strong, too weak, or doesn't correct problems with fusion, nearsightedness or farsightedness, then the muscles around the eye work even harder than usual to recorrect the changes made by corrective lenses. This causes muscles in the forehead, top and front of the head and around the temples to become tense. This, in turn, puts pressure on nerves in the face, neck, and head, which may cause headaches. Even tiny changes in vision or a corrective lens prescription that's just a little off can cause headaches.

Some patients experience mild headaches and visual cues as they get used to a new kind of glasses, for example bifocals or graduated lenses. Some people get headaches when wearing sunglasses with specific lens colors and find that switching to lenses with a different color relieves their headache. For other patients, it's the frame, not the lens that's causing the problem. If the earpiece is too tight or presses on the temple, or over and behind the ear, this can irritate nerves and lead to headaches. Having the frame resized or earpieces adjusted might solve this problem. Ask your optometrist to make these adjustments for you.

If you're having trouble with your vision or experiencing frequent headaches, especially after wearing your glasses, consult with an ophthalmologist or optometrist. If you wear contact lenses or glasses, get your eyes and prescription checked every year or two.