Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2014 | Last updated: May 2020
Often migraine symptoms involve vision changes, loss of vision, sensitivity to light or eye pain. Therefore it makes sense to undergo an eye exam to rule out an eye injury or other eye disorder that may be responsible. More than a century ago, migraines were thought to be caused by errors in eyesight, such as an astigmatism or eye strain. Therefore doctors at the time thought the correct eyeglasses would cure the migraines. The reasons for the vision disturbances related to migraines are still mostly unknown.
Head pain is a common reason people seek eye examinations. A 2000 study in the U.K. found that 10 percent of the men and 23 percent of the women who visited the optometrist’s office suffered from migraine.
As with all tests conducted on a migraine sufferer, an eye examination can’t diagnose a migraine. However, the eye exam can give doctors and the patient more information to determine if something else is causing the migraine symptoms.
Why get an eye exam?
An eye exam can detect:
- Diabetes-related nerve damage in the eye
- Eye infections
- Blocked tear ducts
- Nearsightedness, farsightedness, color blindness or other sight issues
- Abrasions or ulcers on the cornea
- Eye injuries or damage to nerves or blood vessels
- Lazy eye (amblyopia)
What to expect during an eye exam
An eye exam may be conducted by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. An optometrist can conduct an eye exam, prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct your vision, diagnose and treat most common eye disorders and some eye diseases. An ophthalmologist are medical doctors who can treat more complex eye disorders and diseases as well as perform eye surgery.
Typically the doctor will ask about your medical history and your family history. At this time, you can refer to your migraine journal which details all of the information about your migraine attacks and your migraine symptoms. Then the doctor will check your vision and also look inside your eye. You may be given eye drops that allow the doctor to better see the back of the eye. Machines with lights and magnifying devices will be used to examine different areas of the eye, although the tests are not painful. If you’re tested for glaucoma a puff of air may be directed into your eye to measure the eye pressure. Another glaucoma test uses a thin piece paper with an orange test strip on it which is touched to the side of the eye. Or you may be tested for glaucoma with a pencil-like device touching the eye after your eye has been numbed.
Did your eye doctor refer you to a migraine specialist?