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A tension headache isn’t usually severe. It can go away in as little as 30 minutes, but it may also last for several hours, or even a few days.
Why do I wake up with a headache behind my eyes?
There are several different types of headache, and some can cause you to wake up with pain behind the eyes. There are lots of reasons why headaches can happen, although a cause can’t always be found.
Headache pain behind the eyes can vary, depending on the type of headache. It can be severe or mild, sharp or dull, or a feeling of pressure. Some headaches are one-sided, so you may feel pain behind your left eye or right eye only.
Sometimes, waking up with a headache can be a sign of a more serious problem or condition. So it’s important to see a doctor if it happens often, or if it’s very painful.
Read on to learn why you might be waking up with a headache behind your eyes, when you should get medical help, and what treatment options are available.
What causes headaches behind the eyes?
There are many reasons why you might get a headache and pain behind the eyes. In some cases you might wake up with a headache, while in others you’re more likely to get a headache behind the eyes over the course of a day.
Here are some of the common causes of a headache behind the eyes.
Most people will get a tension-type headache at some point – it’s the most common type of headache. It’s what’s known as primary headache, which means it’s not caused by another condition.
Common symptoms include:
- pressure behind your eyes
- an ache on both sides of your head
- tightness in your neck muscles
A tension headache isn’t usually severe. It can go away in as little as 30 minutes, but it may also last for several hours, or even a few days.
Some people get tension headaches regularly. If you have one more than 15 times in a month, for at least 3 months, you have what’s known as chronic tension-type headaches.
Read more about the causes of and treatments for
is a swelling of your sinuses, which are small air spaces behind your nose, eyes and cheeks. It’s usually caused by an infection, and is common after having a
It commonly causes a headache with pain and tenderness around your eyes, forehead and cheekbones, as well as a blocked nose. You may also have green or yellow mucus from your nose.
are extremely severe attacks of pain that happen on one side of your head. Like tension headaches, they’re not caused by another condition. The pain is often sharp and felt around the left eye, right eye or temple, or sometimes face.
Other symptoms can include:
- a red and watery eye
- a swollen and drooping eyelid
- a pupil that is smaller than the other
- a runny or blocked nostril
- a sweaty face
Cluster headaches often start suddenly and last between 15 minutes and 3 hours, and happen between 1 and 8 times a day. This pattern can go on for days, weeks or months. The headaches often stop for months or years at a time, before coming back again.
It’s not clear what causes cluster headaches. Some people who get them have other family members with cluster headaches. And an attack can sometimes be triggered by certain things, such as drinking alcohol, or strong smells like paint, petrol or perfume.
Smoking may also increase your risk of getting cluster headaches. Read more about the
to help you quit.
is a moderate-to-severe headache, usually on one side of your head, which feels like a throbbing pain. It can cause pain behind the eyes and eye pain.
Other common symptoms include feeling or being sick (vomiting), and feeling very sensitive to light and sound.
You can also get what’s known as an aura. This is when you get warning signs that a migraine is about to start, such as seeing flashing lights.
Migraines are primary headaches, and it’s not known exactly what causes them. But it’s thought they can be triggered by various things, including:
- emotional triggers – such as stress, anxiety or tension
- physical triggers – such as bad posture, tiredness or bad sleep
- environmental triggers – such as bright lights and flickering screens
- certain foods, caffeine or alcohol
- not drinking enough fluids (dehydration)
- hormonal changes – migraines can be worse around your
If you get migraines regularly, you might find it useful to keep a diary of your symptoms, to see if you can work out your possible triggers.
Overuse of painkillers
over a long period, such as 10 days or more, can actually cause a headache. Your body gets used to the medicine, so a headache can develop if you suddenly stop taking them.
It’s important not to stop taking any medicines unless you’re advised to, however. So see a doctor if you think your headaches are caused by medication overuse.
Read more about
Straining your eyes or squinting can also cause a headache behind the eyes – although not one you’re likely to wake up with. You may notice eye strain after concentrating on something, such as a computer, for a long time.
If you find you’re straining your eyes, stop what you’re doing before it causes a headache. If a headache is coming on because of a certain activity, stop and rest your eyes.
A condition called
is a common cause of eye strain and headaches. It’s when your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football, meaning that light is focused at more than 1 place in your eye. It can also cause blurred vision.
Astigmatism is usually diagnosed in a routine eye test, so it’s important to have regular checks with an optician. You may need glasses or contact lenses, or choose to have
Read more about
Less common causes of a headache behind the eyes
– when you don’t have enough fluids in your body. This is a common cause of headaches when you have a
When to see a doctor for a headache behind the eyes
Most people get headaches from time to time – they usually aren’t anything serious, and often go away on their own. However, there are times when you should seek help.
Call an ambulance or go to the emergency department if:
- you have a head injury from a fall or accident
- your headache comes on very suddenly and is extremely painful
- you have a fit or blackout (lose consciousness)
You should also call an ambulance or go to the emergency department if you have a very painful headache and:
- feel confused or drowsy
- suddenly have problems speaking or remembering things
- a very high temperature (
See a doctor as soon as possible if you have a bad headache and:
- blurred or double vision
- a sore scalp
- a red or swollen face
- your jaw hurts when you eat
- it gets worse when you lie down or stand up
- it’s triggered by coughing, sneezing, bending or exercise
- you’re over 50 years old
- your personality has changed
- people you live with have similar symptoms (possible
Book an appointment with a doctor if you have a headache and:
- it keeps coming back or gets worse
- it doesn’t get better with painkillers
- it’s a painful throbbing feeling at the front or side of your head
- you feel sick or vomit and find noise or light painful
- you have a weakened immune system
- you’ve had cancer in the past
Your doctor will ask questions about what your headaches are like, your diet and lifestyle, and whether anyone else in your family gets headaches. This will help them to work out what type of headache you have.
Treatments for a headache behind the eyes
Treatment options vary, depending on the type of headache you have.
Tension headaches can usually be treated with simple painkillers such as
, which should ease the pain fairly quickly. Speak to a pharmacist about how to take these medicines safely.
It’s important not to take painkillers for more than a few days at a time, as this can cause headaches from overuse, as mentioned above.
Tension headaches can also be managed by drinking plenty of water (if dehydration or a hangover caused your headache) and rest (if tiredness caused your headache).
Sinusitis can often be treated with painkillers and the methods mentioned above, too. The infection usually clears up on its own, but sometimes you may need medication from a doctor. Learn more about
Cluster headaches can’t be treated with simple painkillers, because they don’t work fast enough to deal with the pain. A specialist clinic can prescribe treatments both to relieve the pain and help stop them from happening again. This may include injections, nasal sprays and tablets. Read more about
If you get migraines, simple painkillers can often help, especially if taken at the first signs of a migraine. If you’re struggling to manage your symptoms, a doctor may prescribe a stronger painkiller or other medication. Read more about
Stress and anxiety can be triggers for both tension headaches and migraines, so relaxation techniques may also help. Having a massage can help you feel more relaxed, as can yoga and other relaxing forms of exercise. You could also try applying a warm flannel to the back of your neck, or a cool flannel on your forehead.
If you think eye strain is causing your headaches, it’s a good idea to see an optician for an eye check.
If you think your headache could be due to an underlying condition, see your doctor as soon as possible, so your symptoms can be investigated.
Your health questions answered
- What if I have a constant headache behind my eyes?
If you have a headache behind your eyes that doesn’t go away, see your doctor. You should also see your doctor if your headache keeps coming back, painkillers aren’t helping, or if you get other symptoms with your headache.
- there are several reasons why you might wake up with a headache behind the eyes, and most headaches aren’t serious
- common causes of headaches behind the eyes include tension headaches, sinusitis, migraines, cluster headaches and eye strain
- depending on the cause, treatment options include simple painkillers, lifestyle changes and prescription medicines
- taking painkillers for a long period of time can actually cause headaches
- see a doctor if your headache doesn’t get better with painkillers, gets worse or keeps coming back
Here’s Why You’re Always Waking Up With Headaches
When you have a pounding headache, being unconscious might sound like a nice alternative. But what happens when sleep itself is the trigger for your aching head?
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If you’re wondering why you’re waking up with headaches, know that sleep problems are often part of the puzzle. “If you’re dealing with chronic headaches, or headaches that seem to appear as soon as you wake up, it could be a sleep disorder,” says Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, DO, sleep medicine physician and Director of the Sleep Disorders Center.
Which types of headaches are more common in the morning?
First, it may be helpful to identify the type of pain or discomfort you’re feeling in your head in the mornings. Our head is a complicated part of our body, so it comes with a variety of … brain pains. And different sensations can indicate different issues.
Here’s the type of headaches you’re likely to experience in the morning:
- Migraines. This type of headache usually feels like an intense throbbing in one location of your head. The pain is usually very intense and is often accompanied by symptoms of nausea and dizziness.
- Tension-type headaches. Often described as feeling like your head is being “squeezed” by a tight band, tension headaches are more of a consistent pressure across your entire head. The pain for these can range from mild to intense, but annoying either way.
- Cluster headaches. If you feel severe pain on one side of your head, which then swiftly goes away and then returns with a vengeance, you may be experiencing cluster headaches. These are also common after waking and can last between 15 minutes and four hours.
- Hypnic headaches. Although rare, these “alarm clock” headaches, as they’re often called, are also common in the mornings because they strike right when you’re in a deep slumber and wake you up. They can happen every night, sometimes, more than once a night.
The type of headache you’re experiencing in the mornings is the first step to identify. The next step is to try to determine the cause behind them.
Six reasons why you wake up with headaches
Is there a rhyme or reason why you could be getting morning headaches? Or is this just some kind of cruel, pointless joke that the universe is playing on you? There are a number of causes that could be why your head feels like it’s about to explode as soon as you wake up.
Insomnia and sleep problems
Headaches and slumber troubles are linked in a variety of ways. Being sleep deprived can make you more likely to develop a tension headache during the day. It’s often a vicious cycle, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer explains. “Insomnia can cause tension headaches, which can make it harder to sleep, which can lead to more headaches.” (AHHH!)
Lack of shuteye can also turn up the volume on other types of headaches. “When people aren’t sleeping well, their pain is magnified,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer adds.
And even if you’re well-rested, sleep isn’t always an escape from chronic headaches. Both migraines and cluster headaches can come on while you’re snoozing. Of course, they can also strike when you’re wide awake, and the sun is shining.
Other headache syndromes are closely tied to sleep, too.
Sleep apnea and headaches
People with sleep apnea stop breathing off and on for short periods during the night. Snoring is the symptom most commonly associated with sleep apnea. But sleep apnea headaches are also surprisingly common, Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.
“We think more than half of the people with sleep apnea have headaches,” she adds. “The classic scenario is that a person wakes up with a headache each day, which goes away within four hours.”
People usually describe apnea-related headaches as pressing pain that occurs on both sides of the head. They differ from migraines, which often cause pulsing pain on one side or the other and are usually accompanied by nausea or other symptoms. And the good news: “Typically then, we treat the apnea, the headaches go away,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says.
Exploding head syndrome
Yes, there is a disorder called exploding head syndrome. No, it’s not what it sounds like. (Thank goodness!)
This sleep disorder causes a person to hear an imaginary crash or exploding sound in the hazy moments between wake and sleep. It’s often painless, but some people report a stab of pain in the head.
Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer says exploding head syndrome isn’t well understood. “We believe it’s a phenomenon that happens as your wake systems shut down and your sleep systems come online. It’s similar to the way your muscles sometimes suddenly jerk as you transition from wake to sleep.”
When it comes to sleep and headaches, it’s all about balance. So even though we just went over how not sleeping enough can cause headaches, so can the opposite extreme. Sometimes, your body doesn’t like it when you sleep longer than you’re used to — it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, make you feel groggy and yes, contribute to headaches. A lot of time, this happens when you’re getting plenty of hours of sleep, but the quality of ZZZs you’re getting is lacking.
If you grind your teeth in your sleep, this may be another reason why you’re waking up with headaches. Teeth grinding while sleeping, or “sleep bruxism,” is when you unconsciously grind your teeth and clench your jaw while asleep. This creates an overall tension on your face and head, leading to a nasty headache or migraine the next morning.
This may be one of the first possible culprits to cross off the list. Depending on your sensitivity to alcohol, even one cocktail the night before can lead to a pounding headache the next day. Especially if you’re binge-drinking shortly before you go to bed, you’ll likely experience head pain the next morning. Plus, alcohol dehydrates your body a lot, and that lack of H20 can contribute to headaches as well (whether they happen during the day or night).
How do you treat morning headaches?
Sleep itself is pretty mysterious, so it’s no surprise that scientists have a lot to learn about the weird and wild ways our sleep systems can go awry. But the link between headaches and sleep problems is fairly straightforward — and mostly treatable.
“Many of my patients found that their headaches disappeared when we treated the insomnia or sleep apnea,” Dr. Foldvary-Schaefer notes. “If you have chronic headaches, it’s worth exploring whether a sleep disorder is an underlying trigger.”
How can you stop waking up with headaches?
Whether your healthcare provider recommends further sleep treatment or not, there are certain lifestyle choices you can also make to avoid waking up with a headache.
- Get on a good sleep schedule. This may take some adjusting over time, but if you make an effort to go to bed and wake up at similar times, it could help relieve your headaches.
- Stay on top of your migraines. Don’t let this morning head pain sneak by you — make sure to take note when you’re getting these headaches or migraines and if there are any possible patterns you notice. This could be as simple as keeping a journal by your bed or a note in your phone.
- Avoid alcohol. Especially if your headache diary is telling you that alcohol is a trigger for headaches, try and be conscious of how much you’re drinking in the evenings. If you need help with regulating your alcohol use, talk to a healthcare provider for resources.
- Good diet and plenty of hydration. Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day and sipping on a tall glass of H20 first thing in the morning. A balanced diet also helps with keeping headaches at bay.
When are morning headaches serious?
Even if you don’t suspect that there’s an underlying disorder behind your headaches, it’s still a good idea to see a doctor if you’re not feeling any relief — especially after trying lifestyle changes. A healthcare provider can provide some other treatment options, as well as try to rule out any other triggers like medication, diet or strained muscles.
If your doctor finds that your headaches may be linked to something like insomnia, sleep apnea or bruxism, you may need further treatment to get to the root cause. And if you’re getting morning headaches three or more times per week, you should make an appointment to help figure out next steps.