It’s not a figure of speech; reading really CAN cause a headache…but just how does this happen?

It all starts with the eyes – when they get strained during reading.

While reading, the eyes may get very overworked. Eyestrain is also called asthenopia.

The fatigue of the eyes brings with it discomfort around the eyes. This leads to a headache when the eyes are overworked enough.

A reading headache is dull or mild, sometimes moderate. It is not searing. It does not get described as a “crown of thorns” or “splitting.”

However, it may seem that reading has caused a severe headache if, shortly before the onset of the headache, the person had been engaged in prolonged reading – or some other activity that involves intense up-close staring.

Don’t let yourself get fooled by coinciding timelines. The day after my mother had spent a lot of time doing some sewing – during which she often stares close to what she’s working on – she awakened with a “crown of thorns” headache that would not go away.

My father thought it was caused by “eyestrain from all that sewing.” I knew better and took her to the ER.

She was diagnosed with bleeding on the brain – caused by a fall six weeks prior.

So don’t be quick to pass off a severe and persistent headache off to reading or eyestrain, especially if there are other symptoms present.

A headache from reading, in addition to being only mild to moderate – certainly not sharp or pounding – is often felt equally, on both sides of the head near the temples.

Preventing Reading Headaches

• Employ the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes look 20 feet away from what you’re reading for 20 seconds.

• Keep hydrated; sip water while you read (or sew, etc.).

• If you feel any tension, tightness or aching coming on, don’t try to power through your reading. Take a break if you can. Gently massage your temples.

• Always read in good light. Never mind the electric bill.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
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