Vision or eye problems are rarely the cause of recurring headaches in children, even if those headaches occur when children are doing visual tasks, a study presented today at a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Chicago shows.
Researchers reviewed the medical records of 158 children younger than 18 who had visited Albany Medical Center in New York for frequent headaches between 2002 and 2011. Ophthalmologists found that the children's eye health and vision-test results remained unchanged from previous exams for 75 percent of the patients. And children who already wore eyeglasses didn't need new prescriptions at the time.
While 14 percent of children reported that they got headaches while doing homework and other visual tasks and 9 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, the researchers found. In addition, the researchers found that most of the children's headaches went away over time, regardless of whether they were given new vision-correction prescriptions.
"We hope our study will help reassure parents that in most cases their children's headaches are not related to vision or eye problems, and that most headaches will clear up in time," Dr. Zachary Roth, who led the research team, in a written statement. "The information should also be useful to family doctors and pediatricians in caring for children and parents who have this common health concern."
About 30 percent of the children in the study had eye conditions that went beyond the need for vision correction, including strabismus, or misaligned eyes; amblyopia, or lazy eye; or other more rare and serious conditions. Seventeen percent of children in the study had a family history of migraine headaches. However, because researchers were reviewing patients' records after they had been treated, they were unable to tie for certain these conditions and family history to children's headaches.
Just as an aside, there's a divide between some groups of eye-care specialists about what kind of eye exams children need, with some ophthalmologists arguing that only those who fail eye screenings—often given at school—should get comprehensive eye exams. The American Optometric Association endorses comprehensive eye exams for all children.