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Why Is My Child Complaining of Eye Pain and Headaches?

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A young girl complaining of eye pain and headaches during a visit to an optometrist

Talk About Children’s Eye Problems

Children’s vision problems can often be challenging to detect because their visual skills are still developing. Kids are still learning what “normal” vision is and don’t always know how to tell if they’re experiencing a problem. About 10% of preschool children have eye or vision problems, yet many kids their age don’t talk about it simply because they may not know how to express what they see or feel.

When a child complains about eye pain or headaches, it’s usually a sign there’s something worth talking about. Visiting your child’s optometrist for an eye exam can help determine the cause and help your child feel more comfortable talking about their eyes.

Refractive Errors

Refractive errors are the most common type of vision condition. There are 4 types, but only 3 affect children’s vision. Refractive errors occur when light is bent or reflected incorrectly inside the eye, causing blurry vision.

Vision problems caused by refractive errors can range from mild to severe. While blurry or hazy vision is the most common symptom, untreated refractive errors can also cause:

  • Double vision
  • Eye strain (tired or sore eyes) 
  • Halos or glare around lights
  • Headaches
  • Squinting (to improve focus)

Glasses or contact lenses can correct how light refracts, improving vision and reducing symptoms. 

Refractive Error Types

Myopia (nearsightedness) causes blurry distance vision because of an elongated eye or steeply curved cornea (front of the eye). 

Severe myopia can also increase the risks of developing sight-threatening eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment. Fortunately, slowing eye growth using myopia control can help protect a child’s lifelong vision and eye health.

Hyperopia (farsightedness) causes blurry close vision because of a too slightly curved cornea or short eye length. 

Astigmatism can cause blurry vision at all distances because of an irregularly shaped cornea or lens. The eye is unevenly shaped with mismatched curves, like ripples on the water’s surface.

Having blurry vision, which is a sign of digital eye strain, a young boy using a laptop covers his face with his hands.

Digital Eye Strain

Digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur when using a digital device for an extended period of time. Viewing digital screens can be hard on our eyes, from tracking movement on scrolling pages to contrast problems caused by poor lighting. 

Repeating a single action for a prolonged time can be exhausting for any muscle. When we overwork our eyes by focusing at a single distance, it can cause eye strain. Digital screens also change blink patterns: instead of completely closing our eyes, we have incomplete blinks where the eyelids don’t meet. Complete blinks help spread moisture across the eye. 

Both adults and children can spend long hours on computers, gaming systems, tablets, or phones. However, children may need help recognizing symptoms of eye strain and learning healthy strategies. For example, younger kids may find it challenging to press pause during a game or take a stretch break while completing homework. 

Common symptoms of digital eye strain are:

  • Blurry vision
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck or shoulder pain

Fortunately, there are simple ways to prevent digital eye strain. Taking regular screen breaks, reducing screen glare, adding distance between the eyes and screen, and practicing proper posture can help make your viewing experience more comfortable. 

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common headache type. These headaches can cause mild, moderate, or severe discomfort, usually occurring on both sides of the head or forming a tight band across the forehead. The aching sensation can also be felt behind the eyes or in the neck. 

People experiencing a tension headache may have difficulty focusing and feel tired or irritated. Depending on the headache intensity, they may feel nauseous or have an upset stomach. Children with headaches may withdraw from play or sleep more.

Triggers of tension headaches include:

  • Dehydration or hunger
  • Dental problems, including grinding or clenching
  • Dry eyes
  • Eye strain
  • Lack of sleep or fatigue
  • Poor posture
  • Stress (emotional, mental, or physical)

Tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, or therapy. Consult your child’s primary healthcare provider if their headaches often recur, last more than a few days, or affect their daily life. 

Allergies

Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and sinus congestion are 2 of the most common allergic conditions in children. In addition to the tell-tale symptoms of sneezing, running nose, nasal congestion (blockage), or an itchy nose, an allergic reaction can also cause headaches, irritated or watery eyes, and soreness behind the eyes.

Allergies can also cause a form of conjunctivitis (pink eye). While other forms of pink eye are highly contagious, allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction and cannot spread. When an allergen irritates the conjunctiva (clear tissue covering the front of the eye), it can cause swelling, redness, soreness, a clear, watery discharge, and sometimes itching.

The best way to stop allergy symptoms is to remove the allergen. However, getting away from allergens like pollen or dust can be tricky, even indoors. Your child may benefit from medications (including antihistamines), decongestant sprays, warm compresses, or immunotherapy. Be sure to discuss any of these solutions with your child’s optometrist before using any of them.

Sinus congestion can also be caused by an infection or cold. Your child’s primary healthcare provider can prescribe medication or offer professional advice to help fight the illness. 

Children’s Vision Care

You want to give your child the best possible vision care, and we’re here to help. When your child has questions or concerns about their eyes, visit Pack & Bianes Optometry. We’d love to talk to them about how they feel or teach them about vision.We’re passionate about quality vision care for you and your family. Regular eye exams can help protect your child’s eye health and vision. Schedule an appointment today!

Written by Total Vision

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