Pain Behind My Eyes
What is Causing the Pain Behind My Eyes and Light Sensitivity?
I am not a doctor. I am speaking about my personal experience as a patient who suffers from pain behind my eyes and also photophobia. What is photophobia? Here's my definition: My eyes are extremely sensitive to light - the lights are too bright for me. I've dealt with these two eye problems for years but I still have no concrete diagnosis for what causes them. Over the years I've tried to pay close attention to anything that might be related to (or coincides with) when my eyes hurt, but because it comes and goes in "waves" throughout the year it's hard to know for sure.
Because my eye pain is still a mystery, I'm hoping to find other people with similar symptoms who will share their stories of eye pain and help me finally solve this puzzle.
*This article is not meant to replace an examination by a physician. All information and treatment options are not covered here. This is simply my own personal story. If you are having eye pain, see your doctor!
During the Worst of the Eye Pain...
In the mornings, I'd cover my eyes with my hand and slowly walk down the hall to turn off
the couple of lights we left on at night.
Then I'd fix coffee in the dark. My eyes were hurting and the light made it worse.
Do You Suffer from Eye Pain Also? - Please participate in this poll
What statement most closely describes your eye pain?
When My Eyes Starting Hurting
My Passion for Birdwatching is Now Painful
Think of the things you enjoy most in your life. What sparks you? Football? Sewing? Fishing? Mine was bird watching. Each spring and fall since seventh grade (many years ago) I have looked forward to the changing seasons which bring scores of migratory birds through the areas I have lived. In 2006 I noticed my eyes started to hurt while using my binoculars. It wasn't really my eyes themselves, but pain behind my eyes and, now that I thought about it, my eyes seemed extra sensitive to light too accompanied by headaches. Trying to stop birdwatching was like a smoker trying to stop smoking. I resisted as much as possible, but sometimes I'd see something I couldn't identify from a distance and simply HAD to use my binoculars. As the pain worsened day by day, sleeping became a problem because there was only one position for my head that did not hurt.
What helped? Ibuprofen. But who wants to take Ibuprofen every single day? I needed a solution.
This photo used through CC from Flickr.
List of My Eye Pain Symptoms - What's Bothering Me
*These are all the symptoms from the worst of the whole eye pain ordeal. I'm not suffering from all of these anymore, thankfully, but I did want to include every part of what happened in case someone else is going through this.
- Pain Behind My Eyes (both eyes). I've read that many people have pain behind one eye, but mine has always been behind both eyes. From time to time one eye might feel a little worse than the other, but almost always, both eyes hurt.
- Pain when I move my eyes to look up, extreme left or right (not moving my head).
- Extreme light sensitivity. Yes, bright light hurts my eyes, but sometimes I have eye pain and/or headaches when there is no bright light.
- Eyes feel slightly tender (painful when touching eyelids).
- Headaches and head pain when lying down or sleeping. Pain is the very worst when I wake up.
This photo used through CC from Flickr.
Why Are My Eyes Hurting? A Mystery. - This is a list of everything I've suspected and/or investigated. Are these familiar to you?
Some of these I've ruled out, some I haven't. This isn't a list I've read at a medical website. No. This is my own personal list of I've put together as I've mulled the eye pain over an over in my mind for years and tried to think of every possible cause.
- Sinus Pressure: This was my very first suspicion. Were my sinuses causing pressure and pain behind my eyes?
- Eye Strain: This was a good candidate because I spend a lot of time on my computer, but eye strain is supposed to diminish overnight as your eyes rest and my pain was at its worst first thing in the morning.
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma can lead to blindness so I had that checked.
- Teeth Problems or Teeth Grinding: Humm. Could it be?
- Migraines: I have had migraines and do have headaches, but I never thought this was the cause.
- Referred Pain: My mom reads a lot of medical literature and suggested that the pain may be "referred." From what I've learned, eyes are frequent areas of referred pain (pain that actually comes from somewhere else). You can read about some interesting examples of referred pain here.
- Trigeminal Nerve: As wiki says, this nerve is responsible for "sensation in the face." Again, my mom knew about this and we discussed it at length. I'm not qualified to define it here, but you can read more about the .Trigeminal Nerve here at Wikipedia.
- Environmental: Was it something in the home we lived in? Maybe there was mold or something that possibly could be causing this?
- Allergies: Maybe all of this was seasonal and was caused by pollen or something else happening with the seasons.
- Vitamin Deficiency: Could it be a lack of a certain vitamin?
I Can't Look Towards the Sun
We used to live on a river. The home had a nice dock for fishing and sometimes we would go out there and just sit and talk. Sitting on the dock, we were facing due west. My husband sat facing the water, and I always had to turn my chair around and face back towards the house because even with sunglasses, the light was just too bright.
Sunglasses for My Light Sensitive Eyes
A Birthday Gift
This is probably the most thoughtful gift I've ever received. When the eye pain started, my hubby and our daughter surprised me with a pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses. If you haven't heard of Costa del Mars, they are high quality sunglasses loved and worn by beach goers, saltwater fishermen etc. Normally, I purchase my sunglasses at the dollar store so this was a big deal to have such a nice pair of sunglasses. I love and need them so much, I sometimes wear them indoors - even in stores. People look at me like I'm weird (I know what they are thinking :-) but I don't care. I've worn them since 2006 up until a week ago (April 2011) when I broke one of the arms.
You can see lots of styles of Costa Del Mar Sunglasses here at Amazon.
My First Trip was to the Eye Doctor
My First Doctor's Appointment
When I typed "pain behind my eyes" into the Google search box I saw things like sinus infection, eye strain and also something that scared me out of my skin: Glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disorder that can lead to blindness. That was scary to read, even though I never really believed that was my problem. I decided to get an eye exam so I picked a doctor from the phone book. Random picking of doctors is not something I'd normally do but we had just moved to the area and I had no one to ask. I had the full eye exam and there was good news. Which in this case was no news, meaning he found nothing. My eyes were perfect. Humm. He recommended I see my regular doctor to try to trace down the problem. So I did.
Just for the record, we don't have health insurance so paying out of pocket was something I had to consider before making any appointments. This eye doctor trip was $130.
I remember one time...
...standing on a concrete driveway talking to a friend. It was a blazing bright summer Florida day and the reflection of the bright white concrete all around us was almost unbearable. My eyes hurt sooo bad. But I never said anything because I was embarrassed and didn't feel like explaining the whole thing. I should have said something so we could have moved to talk in the shade of a tree.
My Second Trip was to a Regular Family Doctor
More Scary Stuff
Again, I picked a new doctor's office out of the blue and again, I got a super doctor. I described my symptoms and told her about the visit to the eye doctor which showed nothing. Her best guess was that the pain behind my eyes was migraine related. She said sometimes eye pain can cause migraines. Now this sounded completely backwards to me. Wouldn't the migraine be causing eye pain? and not the other way around? I never have understood this.
Anyway, the first thing she did was order a shot (which I got immediately as I was having eye pain sitting there talking to her) which, if it helped, would tell us if the pain was related to a particular kind of migraine. I'm sorry to say that I didn't write down the name of those migraines or the name of the shot. I wish I could share that, but I simply don't remember. She said to just rest on the table there and wait 15 minutes or so to see if the shot relieved the pain. Well it didn't do anything at all. Next we discussed the scary stuff. She said the worst case would be that I had some sort of tumor or some other problem in my head (brain) causing pressure and pain. She said it was a possibility, but not probable. Soooooo she ordered a CT Scan (sometimes called a CAT Scan) with contrast. This trip to the family doctor was about $100. The CAT Scan was more, see below.
My Third Trip was Getting the CT Scan
Well, THAT was Interesting
As I just mentioned, the family doctor wanted me to get a CT Scan to check for anything serious (since nothing else was showing up). And also as I've already mentioned, we don't have health insurance. I'm not complaining about that, just saying it was part of the whole picture as to what we could afford to do as far as pursuing a cure or treatment for my eye pain. Long story short, the CT Scan at the hospital was going to be $2500-$3500 and if I had it done at a stand-alone imaging clinic it would be $400. I made the appointment at the independent imaging clinic. My CT Scan was the type done "with contrast." That's when they inject you with a material which will make your blood vessels show up better in X-rays. You can read more about contrast here.
Anyway, the thing I remember most is that the lady giving me the CT Scan said (as she injected me), "This might make you feel warm, like you are peeing. But you won't be peeing - so don't worry." Humm. She was partly right. I did feel warmth move down my legs. I was lying down.
We were supposed to hear the results of the CT Scan within 3 days. After 5 days I called and found out they had been misplaced on someone's desk all week. OMG! Are you kidding me? I've been living on the edge for 5 days and they lost track of my results? That was really an awful time, but we finally found out that the CAT Scan showed nothing. Nothing at all. My head and brains we all looking good. Cost of CT Scan: $400.00.
This photo used through CC from Flickr.
If I was Speaking with You Face to Face...
...and you were standing in front of a bright window, I'd ask you to move away from it.
I wouldn't be able to look at you because
the light coming in the window beside you
would hurt my eyes.
Next I was Off to an ear, Nose and Throat Specialist
Was the Eye Pain Sinus Related?
When I discussed the "negative" results of the CT Scan over the phone with my regular family doctor, she suggested I go to an ear, nose and throat specialist to check for sinus problems. We weren't at the ENT doctor's office long at all. The doctor came in and looked in my nose, pressed on my face and asked me some questions. Within 5 minutes, he said, "It's not any sort of sinus issue causing the pain behind your eyes. I can tell it's simply not your sinuses." Cost of 5 minutes consultation with the Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist: $140.00. He recommended I see a dentist.
This photo used through CC from Flickr.
Frustration Sets In
Will this pain ever go away?
You know, at some point, all of this gets quite depressing and frustrating. My eyes were hurting and extremely light sensitive, my head was hurting, I couldn't sleep good at night, I couldn't birdwatch and no test or doctor could nail down what could be causing the problem.
After the CT Scan didn't show anything, I didn't pursue any more answers for a while. If you've been there too you'll understand. I was worn out and my eye pain had subsided a little as well. I still had light sensitivity, but the headaches and pain behind my eyes had eased off. I simply took pain medicine and changed my lifestyle (absolutely no bird watching - I can't say how horrible this was for me) and wore sunglasses everywhere I went.
I continued to roll all the information and testing results around in my mind. Not a day went by that I didn't think about the problem and wonder what was causing it.
This photo used through CC from Flickr.
Back to an Eye Doctor - Maybe the First Eye Doctor Missed Something
8 months later
I began to wonder if the first eye doctor missed something. Remember I had no recommendations for him. So the next time I visited my mom out of state I made an appointment to see her eye doctor who is known for his excellent work and care. He performed the normal eye exam stuff and then used an extremely bright light to look into my eyes. He warned me that the light would be intense and he was right. I grabbed the arms of the chair and felt myself push against the cushioned chair as he examined the depths of my eyes. He was surprised that the light was so painful for me and as we discussed my frustration, I broke down.
He talked with me at length about all sorts of things including the trigeminal nerve (hey, that's one of the things my mom mentioned). He also took a look at my teeth which were fine (remember the ENT mentioned going to the dentist). He also performed the simplest of neurological tests (kind of like a touch this, look at that sort of thing) and I could do all of those simple tasks effortlessly.
Even though this eye doctor couldn't tell me the cause of the pain, he actually did help me. He answered a couple of lingering questions and I felt compassion from him. I think the more desperate we get sometimes, the more thankful we are. Looking at his notes (I have a copy) I can make out the words "see specialist" at the bottom of the page. I never did go to any more doctors. This office visit: $122.00.
Where am I Now with My Eye Pain?
All of this occurred in 2006-2007. The pain behind my eyes is nowhere near as painful as it used to be, but I still DO HAVE IT. Somedays it's bad enough for Ibuprofen, some days I just deal with it. Thankfully, the awful headaches and sleeping problems are no more. I don't birdwatch for hours at the time anymore, but I do pick up my binoculars to get a quick look at birds from time to time.
I still have the photophobia and wear sunglasses every time I leave the house. I don't wear them inside my home, but sometimes leave them on when I run into grocery stores etc.
More Reading About Eye Pain and Photophobia - All sorts of links of interest
- Forum with Lots of People Suffering from Pain Behind the Eyes
This is from ehealth. It's a forum where people are chiming in about eye pain.
- Another Interesting Eye Pain Forum
From HealingWell. This thread started with a question about pain behind one eye.
- About Photophobia
What it is, what causes it and things that will help.
- List of Headache-Related Eye Pain
From migraines to eyestrain to sinus problems.
- More on Sinus Headaches
Pain behind the eyes is mentioned.
My Eye Pain is Very Manageable Now
And I am very thankful it's not what it used to be.
If you ended up on this page because you have eye pain, photophobia, are looking for answers or have something to share that has helped you PLEASE leave a note here. Anyone can comment (comments are moderated). One last hope of mine is that an eye specialist will somehow end up reading my story and offer some advice or opinion on what might be causing the pain behind my eyes.