Earache my eye
August 3, 2010 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a constant, low-grade headache. Help.

YANAD, blah blah.

I'm a web nerd, so I sit in front of any one of a series of monitors all day long. I also wear glasses and have since a very early age (about 8) for an astigmatism; I've never tried contacts because the idea of putting my fingers, or anyone's, in my eye just doesn't work for me.

This is a problem that's lasted as long as my professional career as a computer user, which is going on 13 years now. I've seen lots of eye doctors in that time, and had a lot of prescriptions. This most recent visit (going on three years ago) was by far the best I've ever had; the doctor was very thorough and asked lots of questions. She knew I worked on computers and tried to adjust my prescription as best she could for that work.

The ache is generally dull, around my eyes mostly but can radiate around my crown and occasionally "pulse"—sort of a quick sharp shock. The bad part about those occasions is that sometimes my stomach kinda flops over and I feel a bit like I'll pass out. I have a friend who gets migraines, and I don't think this is that. Usually I'm not light sensitive, and normal volume levels are still ok. If either of those things ever isn't ok, it's usually volume.

I take naproxen sodium every day after work. Sometimes it helps and by eight o'clock I feel basically normal. Other times, no dice. I've played around with caffeine intake (anywhere from none to maybe two coffee cups worth, with no real benefit either way.) I realize the naproxen sodium may have side effects I'm not aware of, and may not be a long term solution. Of course I want to see a doctor as soon as possible, but if this sounds familiar to anyone I can at least be prepared with the right questions.

As an aside this seems to have gotten worse in the last four years, 3.5 of which I've spent commuting 2-3 hours every day by car in Virginia traffic. Obvious stress is obvious. Thanks as always to any/everyone for trying to make a stranger's life better.
posted by littlerobothead to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Doctor. CT Scan.

Rule out something more serious then stress and/or eye strain.
posted by royalsong at 4:35 PM on August 3, 2010

Run it by your GP; get them to set up a consult with a neurologist. If nothing else, popping an Aleve every day means you're running a risk of a medication overuse headache, which would suck and be no fun at all.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:39 PM on August 3, 2010

Is this for sure computer-related? Does it clear up when you're on vacation or over weekends?

If it's not your eyes, it could be the ergonomics of your work station causing neck strain and a resulting headache. I had this and raising my monitory about 5" so I don't look down at it, but face it squarely, totally resolved it.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

take naproxen sodium every day after work

That's a sufficient cause for your problem right there. How long have you been taking naproxen? Daily use of NSAIDs is a common cause of headaches. A good rule is to avoid taking pain relievers for headache more than nine days per month. See Rebound headaches.
posted by Ery at 4:45 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

IANAD, IANYD and either is anyone else on this site. You have not given the kind or quantity of information that a doctor could use to diagnose your situation. You do need to see a doctor and/or an optometrist. I don't think a GP will necessarily start running significant tests like CTs or run you off to a specialist, but s/he is likely to ask a lot of lifestyle questions as well as do an exam that might lead to some simple things to try.

If you want to start with the vision issue, more than three years (out of 13) sitting in front of a monitor can affect your eyesight enough that it suggests that you need to go back to the optometrist. Here is a simple test: Carefully measure the distance between the face of your monitor and the surface of your glasses. Hold a magazine at that exact distance and try to read it. Now move it closer and farther from your face. Does the print get easier to read at one of the alternate distances? This may suggest that you (like me) need a different pair of glasses for computer work than you do for the rest of your vision needs. Discuss this with your optometrist.

Try to go two or three days without Naproxin. If the headaches are no worse or get better, consider not taking any except for occasional severe headaches.

Keep that doctor appointment.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:02 PM on August 3, 2010

When I was you, it was my blood pressure. Lowed the blood pressure (meds at fist, later weight loss and, oddly, pregnancy). So, get yet to a doctor.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:02 PM on August 3, 2010

Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw? I go through phases when I'll get one basically every afternoon, and I think that's one of the factors. Often, when I notice a headache creeping up if I do a quick body scan, I notice that I've been holding jaw tense. This is particularly common when I've been having constant, low level stress or anxiety. Combined with computer eyestrain and my allergies, a headache is almost inevitable.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:04 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

How much water do you drink per day? Chronic dehydration --> chronic headaches.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:19 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wheat allergy?

My headaches (as well as joint pain and some generally mysterious skin conditions) are directly tied to my consumption of wheat. They improved drastically (along with my quality of sleep, which was the most amazing change) when I went gluten free. Now when I eat wheat, I have a headache within a half hour.
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:30 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the feeling like you're going to pass out bit isn't anything to sneeze at. From another headache sufferer who has had 2 MRIs and a MRA, you might have to parade in front of a shitload of doctors, but it's a good idea.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:30 PM on August 3, 2010

Chronic dehydration --> chronic headaches.

Yes, that's what I came here to say.

Also worth considering as cause of chronic headaches:

a) sleep debt

b) caffeine withdrawal

c) low blood sugar

d) excessive insulin response to sugary foods - do you get a headache after eating cake or donuts?

e) neck and shoulder tension, which can be a result of

i) stress and anxiety and/or

ii) static load on your neck shoulders while using a computer and not moving much - static load is the OHS term for the fact that your head is damned heavy, and if you are not varying your next posture a lot while you stare at a computer screen all day, your neck muscles get very, very sore from carrying all that weight on the one spot... the solution is movement, stretches, heatpacks, varying your posture as much as possible...

f) not wearing good prescription sunglasses on the way to work/at lunch time/on the way home from work - glare and excessive sunlight can cause headaches that last days.

But yes, see your doctor. Just in case the cause is something serious, like blood pressure, pre-diabetes, diabetes etc.
posted by Year of meteors at 5:34 PM on August 3, 2010

Convergence insufficiency? Apparently most optometrists aren't trained to look for it, and it seems it's been behind some of my constant headaches. (have spent several years going from optometrist to optometrist saying, "something is wrong, despite thorough previous checkups, can YOU help me?" and they didn't even test for it until I went to Mayo...even apparently thorough eye docs might miss it, it seems)

I don't know enough about it to know how to tell if someone else might or might not have it, but if you think it's eye strain and your vision is fully corrected, it seems like it'd be worth getting tested for it.
posted by galadriel at 5:35 PM on August 3, 2010

Oh, and I also wanted to say - I am not a doctor or an optometrist,

but I have prescription glasses (I am short sighted with astigmatism)

and a few years ago I started getting a headache at work every day at 2pm or 3pm that lasted until the next day.

It turned out that the problem was reading too-small text for too long each day, without any opportunity to stare off into the distance to rest my eyes,

and that the solution was that I needed reading glasses for reading.

So now I have

1) everyday glasses for driving, walking etc

2) reading glasses for reading books, computer screens etc.; and

3) far fewer headaches.

If I get lazy and read the internet or a book for more than 30 minutes to an hour in my everyday glasses, rather than finding my reading glasses and swapping over, I get a headache.
posted by Year of meteors at 5:42 PM on August 3, 2010

This is so boneheaded I almost feel bad mentioning it, but do you frown when you're thinking? My tension-headache problems lessened quite a lot when someone made me aware of the fact that I scowled at my computer constantly. I have to consciously relax my face periodically, but it beats constant face-hurt.
posted by dorque at 5:46 PM on August 3, 2010

Change focal lengths from time to time. Staring at a single length all day will stress your eye muscles---the sharp, sudden pain could be eye muscle stress.
posted by effluvia at 6:01 PM on August 3, 2010

Am I reading this right? You haven't been to the eye doctor in three years? Do that first. Stabbing pain headaches around my temples have always been the giveaway that it's time to get my prescription adjusted.
posted by smalls at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2010

IANYD, but my son, who also spends a lot of time on computers, is experiencing the same problem. We went to the doctor and got a (so far, we haven't had blood work done yet) clean bill of health.

At the optometrist's, we learned that his vision is perfect but that he has something known as lead of accommodation he is reading and then adjust, which could be leading to his headaches.

Because of this, the doctor told us to abide by a 20/20/20 rule when online or reading: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen at something 20 feet away from you or so for about 20 seconds.

Not saying your problem is the same, but it couldn't hurt trying the 20/20/20 method to see if it helps with your headaches.
posted by misha at 6:09 PM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone very much.
- I am drinking much more water than ever since I'm exercising more and generally trying to lose weight (in a healthy way.)

- I should go to the doctor and the optometrist, and I will.

- I do tend to clench my jaw, especially at night. Will look into that.

- Thank you all so much, seriously.
posted by littlerobothead at 6:51 PM on August 3, 2010

Doctor appointment is a good thing. I used to have headaches all the time. Doc looked at my blood pressure, said it's way too high, and start taking these medications and watch your sodium. Since I got the BP under some control, the headaches are mostly gone. You could have something else, but this is one possibility.
posted by azpenguin at 11:31 PM on August 3, 2010

Really, get your eyes tested. Your workplace may cover the cost of the exam (this is common in the UK, not sure about the US where healthcare is different). My mother would have gone blind if her glaucoma hadn't been picked up on early during a routine appointment.
posted by mippy at 6:51 AM on August 4, 2010

you have florescent lights in your office? I get migraines, and blue-tinted florescents really make them worse. Warm-tone CFLs seem to be fine, it's just the cheap bulbs in my office that drive me nuts.
posted by telophase at 8:51 AM on August 4, 2010

Nthing the blood pressure suggestion.

The headaches you describe are similar to the nauseating headaches I used to get before 2002. They too would originate around my eyes and nose, and I would make them worse by taking sinus medication, which had stimulants that raised my blood pressure even more.

The doctor I finally settled on as my GP made me realize the headaches were caused by my blood pressure. So she started me on medication, which I've been taking religiously since then.
posted by NemesisVex at 3:58 PM on August 4, 2010

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