July 08, 2019
2 min read

No significant difference found in dry eye symptoms of headache sufferers

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Scott Hauswirth

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Dry eye symptoms were elevated in patients having both migraine and tension headaches, but no statistically significant differences were found in symptoms when comparing the two groups.

Researchers said the high variability in dry eye symptom severity indicated the need for studies of larger numbers of patients, in a poster presented here at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology meeting.

Lead author Scott Hauswirth, OD, a Primary Care Optometry News Editorial Board member, explained that previous papers have established a trend of dry eye symptoms being higher in migraine sufferers. In this study, he and his colleagues tried to “elucidate whether or not there was a difference in dry eye symptoms between patients that suffered from migraine headaches ... and another subset of headaches, specifically, muscle tension headaches,” he told PCON.

Forty-two patients from four sites were enrolled in the study – 10 in the migraine subgroup (mean age 39.6 +/-18.09 years, 6 women) and 32 in the tension subgroup (mean age 52.56 +/-20.12 years, 19 women), according to the study.

“We gave them the HIT-6 [Headache Impact Test], which is a quality of life impact indicator for headaches, so we could see whether muscle tension or migraines had a bigger impact on their quality of life,” Hauswirth told PCON. “Then we looked at their dry eye symptoms, essentially with the Ocular Surface Disease Index and the Dry Eye Questionnaire-5, which are two validated dry eye questionnaires, to see if there were any statistical differences between muscle tension and migraine sufferers.”

He said the researchers found “that we don’t have an answer on whether those two things are truly statistically different when it comes to dry eye. There may be some slight differences in the initial scores, but our standard deviations were extremely high because of the relatively low number of patients we had.

“More studies need to be done with larger numbers of patients to figure out if there’s a trend there or not,” he said.

Hauswirth explained the philosophy behind the research: “As we’re learning that the neurosensory system is pretty important in establishing or influencing symptoms in dry eye, we think that when you have other sources of pain that it elevates your perception of pain in other areas. So it would potentially have an influence on their perception of the comfort of their eyes, whether they suffered from migraines or muscle tension.”

He noted that it would be helpful in future research to also evaluate the level of dry eye signs. – by Nancy Hemphill, ELS, FAAO


Hauswirth S, et al. Dry eye symptom severity in patients presenting with migraine and tension headache. Presented at: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology; Vancouver, British Columbia; April 28-May 2, 2019.

Disclosure: Hauswirth reports financial relationships with Allergan, Avedro, BioTissue, Glaukos, Johnson & Johnson, Mentholatum, Shire and Sun.