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Are Glaucoma and Headaches Related?

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Glaucoma is often referred to as the "silent thief of sight" because the condition rarely has symptoms. However, there are several types of glaucoma; and while the most common types of glaucoma may not have warning signs until substantial vision loss, certain types have been associated with headaches. Let's take a closer look at the connection between glaucoma and headaches. 

Is There a Connection Between Glaucoma and Headaches? 

Primarily, acute types of glaucoma can result in headaches due to the drainage system closing suddenly and rapidly increasing eye pressure. As we know, the prolonged increased pressure can lead to vision loss. 

Glaucoma-related headaches can be felt in or around the forehead or eyes. Those with headaches often experience varied intensity ranging from mild to severe. At the same time, vomiting and nausea can accompany the headache. 

Glaucoma and Migraines

Certain types of glaucoma headaches can be mistaken for a migraine. However, the right diagnosis can easily be made by effectively measuring and monitoring the IOP. In addition, those suffering from glaucoma may see colored halos around objects or experience foggy vision. 

Several drugs — including antihistamines and other OTC medicines —have been known to cause untreated glaucoma to worsen. Because of this, it's vital for the patient to understand and communicate their glaucoma condition with their primary care physician. 

Does Primary Open Angle Glaucoma Cause Headaches?

The most common and chronic types of glaucoma — open angle glaucoma — doesn't have symptoms. Without any early warning signs, this condition can develop slowly over several years without the patient experiencing any loss of sight. 

The majority of people who have open-angle glaucoma do not notice any changes in vision until they lose peripheral vision. Most patients with this type of glaucoma can even maintain sharpness of vision or visual acuity until the later stages of the disease. By the time most patients notice vision loss, the disease has already advanced quite far. 

Does Neovascular Glaucoma Cause Headaches?

Neovascular glaucoma is a condition that results in the individual having very high eye pressures as well as regular headaches. Neovascular glaucoma is a secondary type of the condition where abnormal blood vessels grow over the drainage system. 

The development of these abnormal drainage-angle vessels and iris vessels can occur whenever an individual is dealing with the more severe type of diabetic eye disease known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. These abnormal vessels can also be the result of vascular occlusions in the eye, like central retinal vein occlusion. 

Although there are other, less common types of neovascular glaucoma, they all involve the growth of abnormal vessels. Eventually, the drainage angle is completely covered and the IOP climbs excessively high. 

Then, the patient can experience blurred vision, nausea, pain, and headache. However, patients can avoid this type of glaucoma as well as others by having regularly scheduled dilated eye exams. This is particularly important for those with diabetes. 

Does Angle-Closure Glaucoma Cause Headaches?

Angle-closure glaucoma is another type of condition that causes extremely high eye pressure and subsequent headaches. With an angle-closure glaucoma attack, the IOP increases gradually until the angle for drainage is entirely closed. This causes the pressure in the eye to spike more rapidly. Your patients may experience, nausea, pain, blurred vision, and headaches.

The treatment solutions for angle-closure glaucoma involves treating the lower eye with medicines and laser iridotomy. This same procedure can be used to prevent an angle-closure glaucoma episode. In the acute setting, however, the individual may be in pain because of a swollen cornea caused by high eye pressure, which makes the procedure much more challenging to perform. 

Before an angle-closure glaucoma attack, the patient with narrow angles may experience closure of the angle from time to time, like in dark environments. In these scenarios, your patient could experience blurred vision and headaches. However, if the episode doesn't develop into a full attack and the angle closure resolves, the symptoms of blurred vision and headaches will typically resolve. 

There are other scenarios where an individual at risk for an angle-closure attack may suffer an intermittent closure of the angle or perhaps a full closure attack. Potential contributing factors could include your patient taking prescription medicines, particular OTC meds, or even having their eyes dilated during an eye exam. 

Contact Keeler Ophthalmic Instruments 

If your patient is mentioning chronic headaches, it's vital you effectively uncover the potential causes of these headaches related to their eyes. Even though glaucoma isn't a common cause of headaches, it's always helpful to check the eyes off as a potential source of the pain. 

Contact Keeler Ophthalmic Instruments for a full selection of cutting-edge tonomoters and other diagnostic equipment.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.