Headache Behind Eyes – Causes of Head Pain Behind the Eyes

Headaches are a common problem that every person will experience in life. For some people, headaches are a daily occurrence whereas for others it is an occasional event. There are several different types of headaches but most people classify a headache according to the trigger, nature and location of the pain.  For example, people may say that they get headaches after sleeping, or the pain is at the back or side of the head. However, medical classification of headaches is based on categories such as cluster headaches, tension-type headaches, and migraines.

Head Pain vs Eye Pain

Headache behind the eyes is a common way to describe pain that may be caused by a variety of different reasons. In such cases, one must first distinguish between eye pain and headache. Both are different conditions with a host of varied causes.

Pain that occurs only in the eyes is usually caused by some eye disorder or disease. In some cases, the origin of the problem may not be the eye but some other surrounding tissue. Symptoms of eye problems include red eyes, watery eyes, and visual disturbances. The presence of such symptoms should prompt investigations into the causes of eye pain. On the other hand, eye pain could also occur along with headaches.

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In these cases, the pain may be felt behind one of the eyes. Such headaches accompanied by pain behind the eyes may not have anything to do with the eyes specifically. Instead, certain types of headaches may be accompanied by pain that seems to arise from behind the eyes. Examples of such headaches include cluster headaches and migraines.

Causes of Headache Behind Eyes

Besides cluster headaches and migraines, there are other potential causes of headache behind the eyes. Forehead pain caused by frontal headaches may sometimes be reported as headache behind the eyes. Some causes like a tumor, either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), can also cause headaches behind the eyes depending on where it is located.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are characterized by intense headaches that occur intermittently. The nature of the pain in cluster headaches may be described as a throbbing pain, stabbing pain or an intense burning sensation. The pain typically occurs intermittently throughout the day and may persist for a few days or a few weeks. The pain may disappear on its own for a long period of time (months or years) and return again at a future date.

A characteristic feature of cluster headaches is pain on one side of the head. Even when the pain returns after a period of remission, the painful side remains the same. People suffering from cluster headaches may describe the pain as coming from behind one eye.

Migraine headaches

Like cluster headaches, migraines also cause intense headaches. The exact cause of migraine is not known. However, it is hypothesized that migraine headaches may be caused by an abnormality in the blood flow through the brain. Migraine headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors, including lack of sleep, psychological stress, hormonal changes, and consumption of certain foods or beverages.

Migraine sufferers may also feel pain behind the eyes. This could be due to the enhanced sensitivity of the eyes to light that occurs in migraine. Unlike in cluster headaches, migraine sufferers typically report pain behind both the eyes.

Read more on headache vs migraines.

Eye strain

One of the most common causes of headaches accompanied by pain behind the eyes is eye strain. In today’s world, screens dominate our personal and professional lives. Computers, mobile phones, and televisions are ubiquitous and used intensively. Eyestrain is a common result of the prolonged use of electronic screens.

Infrequent blinking caused by staring at the electronic screen for long periods of time leads to dry eyes. The muscles of the eyes also get strained due to chronic focus on screens that are placed close to the eyes. Blurry vision may also occur due to eyestrain. In some cases, these symptoms may be accompanied by tension-type headaches as well.


Headaches accompanied by eye pain are also a feature of acute sinusitis. The symptoms of acute sinusitis are due to inflammation of the paranasal sinuses, caused by allergies or infections. In sinusitis, the mucosal lining of the paranasal sinuses becomes swollen. The sinuses may also get congested due to accumulation of mucus. The affected sinuses become painful.

The location of the pain depends on the location of the affected sinus. For example, pain behind the eyes is usually caused when the sphenoid sinuses are affected. Pain above the eyes is typically caused by inflammation of the frontal sinuses, whereas pain below the eyes is usually caused by inflammation of the maxillary sinuses.

Orbital cellulitis

Cellulitis refers to inflammation caused by a serious bacterial infection of the skin. Orbital cellulitis results from an infection of the eyelids and other tissues that surround the eyes. The affected tissues become swollen and the eyes may also bulge out. Pain in the eyes may occur while moving the eyes.

In most cases, orbital cellulitis is a secondary condition that occurs as a complication of infections that affect the sinus. Like other types of cellulitis, orbital cellulitis is a serious condition. Rapidly progressing cellulitis can cause blindness. Children are the most commonly affected group.

Head injury

Headaches accompanied by pain behind the eyes could also be a result of traumatic head injury. Such head injuries can result in fracture of the bones of the skull as well as swelling in the brain. The probable causes of traumatic head injury include road accidents, assaults, falls, and collisions in contact sports.

Traumatic head injury can cause internal bleeding in the brain. Therefore, when suspected, traumatic head injury should always be taken seriously and the affected individual must be kept under medical observation.

Optic neuropathy

Optic neuropathy is a potentially serious condition that is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This condition can cause optical disturbances and lead to blindness. Damage to the optic nerve could occur due to many factors, including inherited disorders, nutrient deficiency, infection, exposure to toxins, and neurological diseases. Damage to the optic nerve may also occur as a secondary complication of sinusitis. In optic neuropathy, pain behind the eyes may occur while moving the eyes.

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