Is Your Vision Contributing to Your Body Aches?

Eye issues can cause a literal pain in the neck — not to mention other physical ailments. Check out this list of surprising symptoms to mention to your optometrist.

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If you have a stiff neck or frequent nausea, an eye exam probably isn’t the first remedy that comes to mind. But sometimes eye problems don’t show up as eye problems at all.            

Believe it or not, aches or pains in areas of your body that seem totally unconnected might actually be a signal to see your optometrist.

“Your body is an interconnected system,” says Sneha Kumar, O.D., an America’s Best optometrist in Atlanta. Something wrong with your vision can cause symptoms that you wouldn’t necessarily suspect are eye-related.           

That doesn’t mean you should call your optometrist for every ache and pain, says Dr. Kumar. But it does highlight the importance of regular eye exams and sharing some of your recent health history with your optometrist.

“Be proactive during the examination process and don’t shy away from bringing up those non-eye-related symptoms that you’ve been experiencing,” she says — including the four below.            

1. Neck Pain

If your eyes are slightly misaligned, it may cause you to tilt your head slightly toward one shoulder, without even realizing it. Doctors call this binocular vision dysfunction (BVD), and it’s estimated that 1 in 5 people may have the condition.

That slight cocking of your head helps realign the off-kilter images being received by each eye so that your brain has an easier time of merging them and seeing clearly. But over time, the tilt can lead to chronic neck pain.            

Because BVD symptoms are so wide-ranging, from neck pain and vomiting to anxiety and dizziness or disorientation, they’re often misdiagnosed. But an optometrist can help identify and treat this relatively common condition. Vision therapy and special optic lenses are two typical ways to help patients (and their necks) get some relief.

2. Nausea

Feeling queasy can be another symptom of your brain finding it difficult to merge the separate images your eyes see into one — which is exactly what may happen if your eyeglasses prescription is out-of-date.

Many people are surprised to learn that each eye doesn’t always pull its equal share of the workload. But just as most of us have a dominant hand, it’s common for one eye to cover for its weaker partner.

Our dominant eye does such a good job, in fact, that you may see just fine. It’s only when you’re in the exam chair that the imbalance is spotted.

Of course, the more obvious sign that you’re due for a new eyeglass prescription is noticeably fuzzier vision in one eye (or both). You might also experience double vision or dizziness.           

If your primary care physician has ruled out more common causes of nausea and you’re still frequently feeling sick to your stomach, make sure you’re not overdue for an eye exam.

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3. Dizziness

Your eyes play a huge role in your ability to balance and orient yourself in space, so when something is amiss, dizziness may follow. One culprit is aniseikonia, a condition in which your eyes perceive the size of images differently (as opposed to BVD, in which the images are misaligned).

If you have aniseikonia, an optometrist will generally recommend specially designed contact lenses or glasses to fix or reduce the issue — and your dizziness along with it.            

Even if you haven’t spotted a pattern to your dizziness, bring it up during your eye exam, says Dr. Kumar. An optometrist can either identify your eyes as the cause of the issue or rule them out.

4. Headaches

“Headaches are one of the most common complaints in my patients,” says Dr. Kumar. When you overuse the muscles that help your eyes focus, it can lead to eyestrain and, over time, headaches.          

It’s a mistake to think that every headache can be cured by picking up a pair of reading glasses from the nearest pharmacy, Dr. Kumar says. Sometimes, headaches can point to more serious vision issues.

For instance, with glaucoma, fluid in the eye isn’t able to drain properly, causing pressure to build up over time. For some, this added pressure can cause headaches.           

The takeaway, according to Dr. Kumar, is to see your optometrist regularly. An eye exam doesn’t replace regular physicals with your primary care physician, but it is a crucial part of maintaining your overall health, she says.