Dry eye is a chronic condition that may cause stinging, burning, and grittiness. Research suggests that headaches may also be associated with dry eye.

Dry eye and migraines may both cause sleep, work, and visual disturbances. These may have negative impacts on your quality of life.

However, their combined effects may pose even more of a challenge.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between dry eye and headaches.

The exact connection between dry eyes and headaches is still unclear. However, research suggests that people who have migraines are more likely to have dry eye disease.

The authors of a 2019 study found in previous research that people with migraines are more likely to have dry eye characteristics, such as:

  • poor tear production
  • unstable tear film
  • increased tear osmolarity
  • increased eye inflammation

One possible explanation for experiencing headaches with dry eye is a structural difference in your eye. A 2015 study found that people who have migraines have a different ocular structure than those who don’t have migraines.

The researchers also found that dry eye symptoms are prevalent in people with migraines.

Photophobia (light sensitivity)

Migraines and dry eyes are the two most common causes of photophobia, which is light sensitivity.

The eye is covered by a three-layered tear film, which is responsible for lubricating and protecting the eye from environmental irritants. The tear film also plays a key role in how light is scattered across the eye before entering the retina, known as light refraction.

Dry eyes lead to an unstable tear film, which may affect light refraction and cause symptoms like headaches.

The authors of a 2021 review highlight several possible neurologic and pathophysiologic pathways related to photophobia that could link dry eye and migraines. These include:

  • light-evoked neural pathways to retinal ganglion cells (RGC)
  • light-sensitive neurons in your brain
  • abnormal peripheral nerve signals in the eye
  • inflammation in your nerves and body


Dry eyes and migraines could also be symptoms of taking certain medications, including some types of:

  • acne medications, such as isotretinoin
  • antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • diabetes medications, such as metformin
  • hypertension medications, such as enalapril

If you’re taking any medications and experiencing both dry eyes and headaches, speak with a healthcare professional. They could determine the cause and help develop a treatment plan that could avoid negative symptoms.

Dry eye is caused by poor tear regulation. This may result from your tears evaporating or draining too quickly, or your eyes not producing enough tears.

According to the National Eye Institute, the following risk factors may increase your risk of developing dry eye:

  • being age 50 years or older
  • being assigned female at birth
  • dry, low moisture environments
  • smoky, sunny, and windy environments
  • exposure to environmental irritants, such as pollen and pollution
  • excessive time in front of electronic screens
  • some health conditions, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, and diabetes

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience dry eye symptoms for more than 3 weeks. They could provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment for you.

To diagnose dry eyes and migraines, a healthcare professional will perform a medical history and physical examination. This may include asking you the following questions:

  • How often do you experience migraines and eye dryness?
  • When you experience these discomforts, do they affect your daily activities?
  • Are you having any other physical symptoms?

An eye doctor may also perform several eye examinations to test for dry eye, including:

  • slit lamp test to look at the composition of your tear film
  • Schimer’s test to assess the quantity of tear production
  • tear break-up time (TBUT) to see how long your tears stay intact on the surface of your eye

Treatment for dry eye and migraines will depend on several factors, such as:

  • the underlying causes
  • the severity of symptoms
  • other health conditions
  • whether you’re taking other medications

A healthcare professional can help develop a treatment plan that addresses both conditions separately or together. This may include a combination of dry eye treatments, such as:

It may also include treatments for migraines, including:

Several lifestyle changes may help prevent dry eyes and migraines. Some of these tips may help one condition, while some may have benefits for both.

Some prevention methods for dry eyes and migraines include:

  • wearing tinted lenses in sunlight
  • wearing glasses instead of contact lenses
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses outside to block out winds and environmental irritants
  • using a humidifier in your home
  • minimizing your screen time
  • applying warm compresses for dry eyes and cool compresses for migraines over closed eyes
  • staying hydrated by drinking 8–10 glasses of water each day
  • getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night

What are severe symptoms of dry eyes?

Common symptoms of dry eye include stinging, burning, grittiness, and red eyes. More severe symptoms include light sensitivity, blurred vision, and an inability to cry despite having the urge. If you experience sudden vision loss, blurriness, or floaters, get immediate medical attention. These may be signs of retinal detachment.

Can dry eyes give you headaches?

It’s unclear whether dry eyes can directly give you headaches. However, research suggests that people with migraines are more likely to have dry eyes.

How do I know if dry eyes are causing my headaches?

There’s no clear link between dry eyes and headaches, but research suggests they may be related. Try using OTC remedies for dry eyes or following preventative measures to see if these improve your headaches. If not, a healthcare professional may help develop a treatment plan for your condition.

Can dry eyes affect your brain?

Research suggests that dry eyes may cause white matter alterations in your brain. A traumatic brain injury may also increase your risk of developing dry eye and other ocular conditions.

Although there’s no cure for migraines and dry eye disease, following a treatment plan can help you manage your symptoms and increase your quality of life.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience dry eyes and migraines. They could provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for you.