When a kid complains of recurrent headache when he’s doing schoolwork or other tasks that require visual attention, parents often suspect the child needs glasses.
But new research suggests that children’s headaches rarely stem from vision problems and that most of those headaches end up going away on their own, with or without vision correction.
That’s what a team of pediatric ophthalmologists at the Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center found when they set out to see whether kids’ frequent headaches typically stem from vision problems. They reviewed records from 2002 to 2011 for 158 patients under age 18 who had come in for eye exams after suffering recurrent headaches. The as-yet-unpublished study was presented Monday at the 116th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
About 14 percent of the young patients (whose ages ranged from 3 to 12) reported that they got their headaches when they were doing homework or other visual tasks, and 9 percent reported having vision-related symptoms when their headaches occurred. But upon examination, a vision problem requiring correction via eyeglasses did not seem to be the cause of, or even a major factor of, the headaches.
All told, headaches diminished over time in more than 76 percent of the patients, whether they got new glasses or not. Kids who got new prescriptions weren’t more likely to have their headaches go away than those who didn’t; 72 percent of those with new prescriptions and 78 percent of those without new prescriptions saw their headaches diminish.
It’s worth noting that about 30 percent of the kids were found to have eye conditions (such as misaligned eyes or “lazy eye”) for which glasses were not appropriate treatment, and a few had rare but serious health conditions affecting their vision (for which glasses were not warranted). Nearly 18 percent had a family history of migraines. The study’s design didn’t allow for determining whether those conditions caused headaches.
The authors suggest that parents and pediatricians consider other, more likely causes such as migraines and sinusitis when dealing with headachy kids.