Headaches can occur in different parts of your head and for different reasons, causing many to wonder: What causes headaches behind the eyes?

Everyone will experience headaches at some point in their lives. Headaches are a common physical ailment that can affect people of all backgrounds and ages. A headache is medically defined as pain that occurs in any area of the head. Headaches can occur in any area of your head including the forehead, the temples, the sinuses, the base of the neck, and behind the eyes. Headaches are sometimes a symptom of a more serious medical condition.

There are a few medical conditions that can cause pain, pressure, and headaches behind the eyes. These headaches can cause additional symptoms such as eye discomfort, blurry vision, dry eyes, redness, and sensitivity to light. Headaches behind the eyes can be treated at home, but you may want to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional if the problem persists. In this article, we will explore what causes headaches behind the eyes and a few of the best treatment and prevention options.

What Causes Headaches Behind the Eyes?

Headaches behind the eyes can be the result of a variety of conditions, factors, and habits. Finding out the root cause of these headaches in your particular situation can be beneficial in helping you to figure out the best treatment and prevention options. A headache behind the eyes can be the result of a medical or eye condition as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors such as prolonged computer usage and the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products.

Medical Conditions That Cause Pain Behind the Eyes

what causes headaches behind the eyes

A headache behind the eyes can be the result of other common types of headaches including tension headaches, cluster headaches, sinus headaches, and migraine headaches. They can also be caused by a variety of vision and eye conditions. Lastly, they can be caused by a more serious condition such as a brain aneurysm.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Around 80% of adults in the United States experience occasional tension headaches each year. A tension headache can cause pain in the neck and forehead, as well as behind the eyes. The onset of a tension headache can be caused by eye strain and dry eyes. A tension headache caused by either of these symptoms is more likely to lead to pressure and pain behind the eyes.

A tension headache causes dull, tight pain and pressure. For many people, it can feel like the skull is being squeezed. Along with eye strain and dry eyes, a tension headache can also be caused by stress. For anyone who spends long hours working on a computer each day, these symptoms can come together to cause a headache behind the eyes.

Related: Eye Strain Causes

A person can experience tension headaches at varying frequencies. If you have episodic tension headaches, then the headaches occur less than fifteen days each month. For those who suffer from chronic tension headaches, the pain can come and go on for more than fifteen days each month. A tension headache can last from a half an hour to a couple of days.

Tension headaches are usually mild in nature, especially in comparison to migraines and cluster headaches. The most common symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Mild light and noise sensitivity
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • A dull pain behind the eyes

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are less common than tension headaches, but they can still be a major cause of headaches behind the eyes. The eye pain caused by a cluster headache causes a piercing or burning pain sensation, rather than the dull pain that accompanies tension headaches. Another difference between eye pain caused by cluster headaches and eye pain caused by tension headaches is that the pain caused by a cluster headache usually only occurs behind one eye. A cluster headache causes swelling, redness, and tearing in one eye only.

People who experience cluster headaches notice that they occur in patterns. With a cluster headache, the pain can travel down through the neck and shoulders as well. When you suffer from cluster headaches, the pain occurs daily and the condition can last for several months. These occurrences happen once or twice per year. The specific cause of cluster headaches remains unknown.

In terms of pain, cluster headaches are one of the most severe types of headaches. Aside from severe pain and pain behind one eye, there are other symptoms of cluster headaches including:

  • Teary or watery eyes
  • Redness in the eyes
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Pupil dilation

Cluster headaches cause rare attacks that can last from 15 minutes to up to 3 hours. These attacks usually strike in between painless periods that can last for at least one month. Cluster headaches are sometimes confused with other headaches such as tension headaches, sinus headaches, and migraines.

Medical researchers have not yet determined the exact cause of cluster headaches. It is possible that cluster headaches are a reaction to the bodies release of histamine, which is a chemical that is often released during an allergic reaction. Another possible cause of a cluster headache is the release of serotonin. Serotonin is created by the nerve cells in an area of the face called the trigeminal nerve. It is also possible that the hypothalamus which is a small area located at the base of the brain is involved in the onset of cluster headaches.

Related: Eye Strain Symptoms

In terms of demographics, cluster headaches more commonly affect men rather than women. They affect people of all ages but are most common in people ranging in age from the early 20s to the late 40s.  Cluster headaches seem to be hereditary and run in families. Other causes of cluster headaches include:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Excessive heat
  • Foods that contain nitrates such as bacon and processed meats
  • High altitudes
  • Bright lighting
  • Physical exertion
  • Prescription and illegal drugs

Migraine Headaches

Another common cause of headaches behind the eyes are migraine headaches. A migraine headache can cause severe pain in and around the eyes. Many migraine sufferers notice an aura that resembles flashing lights or geometric patterns before the onset of a migraine headache. This sensation can last for up to 20 minutes. Migraines can also cause symptoms such as numbness and tingling in the skin, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. The sensitivity to light can have a negative effect on your eyes and vision. A migraine headache can also be triggered by bright lights and loud noises, as well as certain foods, smells, and medications.

Migraine headache pain is much more severe than the pain of a tension headache. Migraine headaches also tend to have more severe symptoms. The pain of a migraine headache is sharp rather than dull like a tension headache.


Another possible cause of pain behind the eyes is sinusitis. Sinusitis can lead to severe headaches.  Sinusitis is caused by inflammation in the sinus cavity, which can lead to sinus headaches. The inflammation of the sinus cavity can often result in pain behind the eyes. You can relieve the pain of a sinus headache by treating the sinus infection that causes the inflammation. This will alleviate the pain and pressure throughout your head and behind the eyes.


Sometimes headaches and pain behind the eyes can be caused by the fluctuation of your hormone levels. Women often suffer from migraine headaches before and during the onset of their menstrual cycle. Fluctuations of the hormones can lead to changes in the chemicals in the blood vessels of the brain. This can be exacerbated by certain medications. Headaches can occur due to hormonal dilation in the contraction of blood vessels in the brain.

Headaches Behind the Eyes Caused by Vision and Eye Problemsheadaches behind the eyes

It makes sense that pain behind the eyes can be caused by common vision and eye problems. Sometimes the pain is caused by issues with your eyes rather than a headache. This is common for people who have untreated vision problems such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, as well as other serious medical conditions such as glaucoma, scleritis, optic neuritis, and more. These conditions can lead to pain behind the eyes as the brain and eyes strain themselves to improve your vision and focus.


Scleritis is an eye condition that commonly causes pain behind the eyes. This condition occurs when the eyeballs’ outer coating, the sclera, becomes inflamed. This can cause painful eye discomfort.

Optic Neuritis

Another condition that can cause headaches behind the eyes is optic neuritis, which is caused by an inflammation of the optic nerve. This condition is linked to multiple sclerosis.


Glaucoma is another eye condition that can lead to headaches behind the eyes. This condition is caused when there is an increased amount of intraocular pressure that leads to throbbing pain behind the eyes.

A specific form of glaucoma, acute angle closure glaucoma, is a rare version of this condition that causes a sudden onset of headaches and eye pressure. This condition leads to symptoms including:

  • Eye pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Eye redness

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome can lead to headaches behind the eyes, as well as in this general area. This condition commonly affects people who spend excessive amounts of time working on a computer each day. If you find yourself constantly staring at a computer screen, then you may be exposing yourself to an increased likelihood for this condition. Staring at a computer screen for prolonged periods of time can cause the eyes to become dry and irritated which often leads to headaches. You may also experience pain, burning and itching in the eyes. Excessive tearing is another symptom of this condition. When you suffer from dry eye syndrome your eyes tend to the excess production of tears to make up for the dryness.

Related: Eye Strain Headache


Individuals with untreated farsightedness tend to get frontal headaches and brow aches.  People who suffer from farsightedness often find it difficult for their eyes to focus on objects that are close by. Farsightedness can cause you to strain your eyes which leads to headaches and pain in, around, and behind the eyes.


Presbyopia is a common condition that often affects people that are around the age of 40 years old. This condition is similar to farsightedness as those who suffer from presbyopia have difficulty focusing on nearby objects. They often strain their eyes in order to focus on computer screens and written or typed text.  This condition affects most people as they age and the muscles connected to the eyes begin to weaken. It can lead to headaches due to your brain and your eyes attempts to focus on small or nearby objects.

Giant Cell Arteritis

Giant cell arteritis, which is also known as temporal arteritis, causes inflammation in the arteries that run alongside the temples. This condition can cause throbbing headaches. This condition can result in vision problems due to the decreased blood supply that flows to the retina and the optic nerve.  This is a serious condition that can result in permanent vision loss if left untreated.

Giant cell arteritis has many symptoms including headaches that affect the eyes. Other symptoms of this condition include:

  • Tenderness in the scalp
  • Fever
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Vision problems
  • Fatigue
  • Body pains and muscle aches

Ocular Ischemic Syndrome

Ocular ischemic syndrome can develop from a low level of blood flow to the eye area. Symptoms of this condition include a headache and vision problems. Individuals who suffer from this condition often face other eye problems such as glaucoma, retinal hemorrhages, and cataracts. They may also notice white spots on the surface of the retina due to a lack of oxygen to the area.

Herpes Zoster

Herpes zoster, or shingles, causes headaches, changes in vision, and severe eye and head pain. It occurs due to a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, and it commonly affects only one side of the body at a time. A severe headache, especially with pain behind the eyes, is one of the first signs of a shingles outbreak. If you notice painful skin blisters after a severe headache then you may be suffering from this condition.

Pseudotumor Cerebri

Pseudotumor cerebri causes a pressured pain in the skull that is also known as intracranial pressure.  The exact cause of this condition is unknown and cannot be determined by x-ray images or physical examinations. This condition often causes painful headaches and changes in vision. If pseudotumor cerebri goes untreated it can lead to permanent vision loss.

Brain Aneurysm

A brain aneurysm is serious medical condition that can cause headaches behind the eyes. An aneurysm can develop in any part of your body, but they are most common in the aorta which is largely responsible for transporting oxygenated blood from the heart to other major areas of the body.

Brain aneurysms, also known as cerebral aneurysms, are much less common however they are much more dangerous than other types of aneurysms. Brain aneurysms most commonly affect women over the age of 40, as well as individuals with a family history of brain aneurysms. They can also occur if you suffer from a severe head injury. Other factors that increase your risk for developing a brain aneurysm include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, weakened blood vessels, and other abnormalities. Excessive smoking and drinking can also increase your risk.

One of the first signs of a brain aneurysm is a headache.  The headaches that accompany a brain aneurysm often cause pain behind the eyes, between the eyes, and above the eyes.  Other symptoms of brain aneurysms include dilated pupils and blurred or double vision.  A bleeding rupture may also result from a brain aneurysm. This rupture can cause increased pressure on the brain and disrupt the oxygen levels. This can cause a buildup of fluid and result in a coma, brain damage or death.

Other common symptoms of a brain aneurysm include:

  • Drooping eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • A sudden onset severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
  • Dizziness
  • A loss of consciousness

Other Factors That Can Cause Headaches Behind the Eyeswhat causes headache behind the eyes

Sometimes our daily environments, habits, and behaviors can lead to headaches behind the eyes. One of the most common behavioral or habitual factors that can increase your risk of experiencing a headache behind the eyes is prolonged computer usage. Using a computer for long periods of time causes your eyes to strain themselves in order to maintain focus.

Over using the muscles that enable your eyes to focus causes eye strain which often leads to severe and painful headaches. Activities such as texting on your smartphone, browsing the web, and typing are one of the top causes of eye strain and today’s technology dependent world.

Digital words and images are pixelated which means that they are made up of several small dots, rather than having sharply defined edges. Pixels are much harder for your eyes to focus on. Therefore, your eyes must work very hard in order to see clearly when reading or viewing images on a computer, a smartphone, or tablet. As a result, your eye muscles may experience fatigue and ultimately a headache behind the eyes.

How to Treat Headache Pain Behind the Eyesheadache behind the eyes

Headache pain behind the eyes caused by less serious conditions such as tension headaches, eye strain, and minor vision problems are easy to treat at home. If you are experiencing headaches behind the eyes from a more serious condition such as a brain aneurysm, herpes zoster, or glaucoma, then it is best to consult your health care provider for the most effective treatment options.

Using Over the Counter Medications to Treat Headaches Behind Your Eyes

Tension headaches, cluster headaches, and headaches due to sinusitis that cause eye pain can be treated through the use of over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Medications such as these are common remedies for headaches and body pains, and they are easily available without a prescription.

Related Article: Eye Drops for Eye Strain

There are many options for over the counter pain relief medications that will assist in relieving headaches. Although you can easily purchase any of these medications from your local grocery store or pharmacy, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist in order to get a recommendation for the best medication for your specific type of headache. Popular options include ibuprofen Tylenol, Aleve, and similar medications that may contain caffeine or other ingredients. If your headache behind the eyes lasts for over a week then you may want to call your doctor in order to figure out the root cause of your symptoms. There may be a prescription treatment option that is needed to treat your particular condition.


Although exercising is the last thing on your mind when you are dealing with headaches and eye pain, it can be helpful in relieving pain behind the eyes. This is because exercising can release chemicals called endorphins, which act like natural pain relievers produced by your body.

Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

Poor diet and certain activities such as consuming alcohol and using tobacco and drugs may also contribute to headache pain behind the eyes. If this is the case, you may be able to relieve your symptoms by reducing or eliminating your consumption of processed foods, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, along with other unhealthy substances.

Migraines and cluster headaches can be triggered by certain foods, including processed meats, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Processed meats, processed snacks, and artificial food coloring chemicals contain harmful preservatives such as monosodium glutamate and nitrates, which are known to cause headaches. You should also be mindful of consuming foods that contain soy as they can contain high plant estrogen levels which can lead to headaches for certain people.

Reading and Computer Glasses

Eye strain is one of the leading causes of headaches behind the eyes. This problem can come from overworking the muscles in your eyes in order to better focus on a smartphone, tablet, or computer screen.  A great option for reducing eye strain is to purchase a pair of reading glasses. Reading glasses are great for people who don’t wear glasses on a daily basis but need assistance when reading print materials and computerized text.

Related: Best Glasses for Eye Strain

As we begin to spend more and more time using our eyes to focus on images and text on computer screens during leisurely and work activities, it is important to aid our eyes. When staring at these screens our eyes become strained and can be negatively affected by the blue light that is emitted from these devices. Blue light is harmful to the eyes and can disrupt our natural sleep patterns.

SightPros Computer Glasses May Helpwhat causes headaches behind the eye


SightPros Computer Glasses are a great option for anyone who experiences eye strain from spending long hours reading from a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen each day. SightPros make blue blocker reading glasses that are great for both men and women to reduce eye strain. These computer glasses block the blue light that is emitted from cell phones and computer screens. This blue light causes strain on the eyes while also hindering the production of melatonin which negatively affects your sleep patterns.  In addition, inadequate sleep can contribute to stress and headaches.

Reading glasses do a great job of reducing the eye strain that often accompanies spending long periods of time reading digital text. As e-book readers become more popular, glasses like the SightPros Computer Glasses are something everyone should own. Most people will end up developing presbyopia as the eye muscles weaken with age, and reading glasses are a great way to improve your eyes’ ability to focus.

SightPros Computer Glasses are durably designed with long lasting plastic frames that won’t bend or warp with long-term usage. The high-quality lenses are clear, non-polarized, and easy to clean. The lenses have a width of 51 millimeters, providing a high level of vision assistance. These computer reading glasses are available in a variety of strengths to meet unique vision needs. You can even purchase a pair that does not have any magnifying power to simply block the blue light that is emitted from tablets, smartphones, and computer screens to relieve eye strain. Whatever your needs are, there is a pair of SightPros Computer Glasses for you.

Not only do SightPros Computer Glasses benefit your eyes, but they also benefit people around the world who are in need of vision and eye care. SightPros donates a portion of their profits to fund mission trips to less fortunate areas of the world. The proceeds help to provide vision care to individuals throughout the world.

Eye Masks and Compresses

Eye masks and compresses are great options for dealing with headaches behind the eyes. Headaches behind the eyes can be caused by sinus headaches and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis. Therefore, eye masks and compresses are great remedies for each of these conditions. Both warm and cold compresses are great for relieving a variety of eye conditions.

MediViz Cooling Eye Mask

headaches behind the eye

A great cold compress option is the cooling eye mask for puffy eyes by MediViz. This cold compress eye mask is great for treating allergies, sinuses, headaches, and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis which can all lead to or accompany a headache behind the eyes. This cold compress eye mask is easy to use. All you have to do is put it in the freezer and use it after it has been frozen completely. It stays cold for a long period of time which makes it great for prolonged relief.

Mediviz’s cooling eye mask relieves the redness and swelling that can accompany eye allergies, as well as the headaches that often accompany a sinus infection. As a result of relieving these conditions, you may notice your headaches behind the eyes get better or go away altogether. This cold eye mask can also relieve migraines and tension headaches. It is great for blocking out light, which is a perfect feature for alleviating headache pain.

Allergens can lead to a variety of different physical symptoms related to the eyes such as redness, itchiness, and dry eyes. All of these symptoms can be accompanied by painful headaches behind the eyes. The Mediviz cooling eye mask is great for relieving your discomfort.

This eye mask is also great for treating dark circles and eye puffiness, which can help you look and feel younger and more refreshed after a period of usage. This compress is great to use during a nap for puffiness, swelling, and headache relief.

This cooling eye compress is simple and easy to use. To prepare this cold compress for use, place it in the freezer for at least two hours before applying over your eyes. After the mask is completely frozen, close your eyes and place the mask over them. It is recommended to avoid using this mask for over twenty minutes at a time. To clean this mask, simply wash it with mild soap and water.

Mediviz offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee for its cold eye mask. If this cold eye mask doesn’t relieve your sinus and headache symptoms, then MediViz will provide you with a full refund.

Do You Know What Causes Your Headaches Behind the Eyes?

A headache behind the eyes can be the result of a variety of moderate to severe medical conditions. They can be caused by everyday illnesses such as tension headaches, sinusitis, and allergies. A headache behind the eyes can also be caused by the severe pain that can accompany migraines and cluster headaches. If you have a headache behind the eyes that lasts for several days, then it may be caused by a serious eye or head condition such as glaucoma, optic neuritis, and giant cell arteritis. If you are experiencing severe headache pain for an extended period of time, then you should consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.

The most common and easily treatable cause of a headache behind the eyes is eye strain. Eye strain can be the result of an uncorrected vision issue such as farsightedness and presbyopia. When you have an untreated vision issue your eyes are forced to work harder to focus. Even if you don’t have an uncorrected vision problem, you may be straining your eyes when your eyes try to focus on images and text on a smartphone, tablet, and computer screens. Thankfully, there are many treatments and remedies that can relieve headaches behind the eyes.v

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

October 17, 2018