If you get migraines, you may be at higher risk for also having a certain chronic eye condition—especially if you’re a senior. In fact, addressing the eye condition might have a wonderful effect on your migraines. Here’s why.

A link between migraine, which affects about 14% of the general population in the US, and chronic dry eye disease, which causes a reduction in the quantity or quality of tear production, has long been suspected. However, studies looking into the connection between the two conditions were small and the findings have been inconsistent.

A new study led by researchers at University of North Carolina (UNC) looked at 10 years of records for nearly 73,000 patients age 18 and older who were treated at UNC-affiliated ophthalmology clinics.

Results: After adjusting for confounding factors that can cause dry eye—such as medications and eye surgery—patients who had been diagnosed with migraine headaches were found to be 20% more likely than people without migraines to also have dry eye disease. The association was highest for older patients. Men age 65 and older were nearly twice as likely and women in that age group 2.5 times as likely to also have chronic dry eye.

While this study did not show exactly how migraine and dry eye disease are connected, the researchers suspect that the link is inflammation, which has a significant role in both conditions. It is believed that inflammatory proteins trigger hypersensitive brain cells to produce the painful headaches that are characteristic of migraines. And chronic inflammation is one of the major causes of dry eye disease. (The researchers did note that the stronger association for older patients was not surprising, given that risk for dry eye increases with age, and especially for women because of the hormonal changes of menopause.)

Although the study didn’t prove that inflammation from dry eye triggers migraine attacks, the researchers believe that it might…and suggest that diagnosing and treating dry eye in people with migraines may help reduce attacks.

If you have been diagnosed with migraine, ask your doctor to evaluate you for dry eye, especially if you have symptoms—stinging, burning, redness, pain, discharge and/or blurred vision. Treating dry eye, such as with artificial tears or medications to improve tear production, might have the happy “side effect” of fewer or less bothersome migraines!

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