Children's headaches rarely indicate a need for eyeglasses

November 12, 2012

A new study provides the first clear evidence that vision or eye problems are rarely the cause of recurring headaches in children, even if the headaches usually strike while the child is doing schoolwork or other visual tasks. Many parents assume that frequent headaches mean their child needs glasses, so they ask their doctor to refer their child for an eye exam. This study was conducted by pediatric ophthalmologists who wanted to find reliable answers for parents, family doctors and pediatricians facing this common health question. The research is being presented today at the 116th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, conducted jointly this year with the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology.

In this , which was conducted at the ophthalmology clinic of Albany Medical Center in New York state, researchers reviewed the medical records of 158 children under age 18 who were seen at the clinic for frequent from 2002-11. All of the children received complete by the clinic's ophthalmologists.

No significant correlation was found between their frequent headaches and a need for . The researchers reached this conclusion by comparing the results of the clinic's exams of the children with headaches to the records of their previous eye exams and other relevant medical care. Eye health and results remained unchanged from earlier exams for 75 percent of the children. Also, children who already had eyeglasses were not found to need new prescriptions at the time they were seen at the clinic for headaches. Although about 14 percent of the children reported that their headaches occurred while doing like homework, and about nine percent reported visual symptoms associated with their headaches, a need for vision correction did not appear to be the primary cause or a significant factor in any of these cases, according to the study.

The researchers considered it positive that most of the children's headaches resolved over time. Follow up reports from parents showed that headaches improved in 76.4 percent of all study subjects, including those who did and those who did not receive new vision correction prescriptions. Children who received new prescriptions were not more likely than others to have their headaches improve. Assessing the causes of the headaches and addressing the children's long-term outcomes were beyond the scope of this study.

"We hope our study will help reassure parents that in most cases their children's headaches are not related to vision or , and that most headaches will clear up in time," said Zachary Roth, M.D., who led the research team. "The information should also be useful to and pediatricians in caring for children and parents who have this common health concern."

About thirty percent of the children in the study had eye conditions that went beyond the need for vision correction, including strabismus (misaligned eyes) amblyopia ("lazy eye") or other rarer, more serious conditions. Seventeen percent had a family history of migraine. Because this was a retrospective study, the researchers were unable to connect these factors with headache causes.

Related Stories

Eyes are windows to more than a child's soul

September 1, 2011

Nearly 80 percent of what children learn during their first 12 years is through their vision. Though vision problems may seem easy to identify, they actually can be difficult for parents to discern. Still, parents need to ...

Migraine in children may affect school performance

October 29, 2012

Children with migraine are more likely to have below average school performance than kids who do not have headaches, according to new research published in the October 30, 2012, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal ...

Recommended for you

Study points way forward for retinal disease gene therapy

May 3, 2015

Gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), an inherited disorder that causes vision loss starting in childhood, improved patients' eyesight and the sensitivity of the retina within weeks of treatment. Both of these ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.