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A constant headache plus ongoing pressure behind an eye would be an emergency situation under certain circumstances, while under others would be less serious.

“Migraines are a common cause of headache and pressure behind the eye,” says Kaushal M. Kulkarni, MD, board certified ophthalmologist and neuro-ophthalmologist in private practice in New York.

Though migraines can send a person to the ER, due to their alarming degree of pain, they are not a medical emergency.

Dr. Kulkarni also explains, “There are many other possible causes including high intraocular pressure, high cerebrospinal fluid pressure, inflammation in or around the eye, or compression of the eye socket.

“If there is swelling, redness, or bulging of the eye or eye socket [bulging suggests a brain tumor], any change in vision, ringing in the ears or any other neurologic symptoms, this would require immediate attention.”

Of course, as you already surely know, a brain tumor can cause what a patient might describe as a constant headache with pressure behind an eye.

But if these are your only two symptoms, and especially if you’ve had them for many months, it probably isn’t a brain tumor.

Nevertheless, a doctor will want to get a CT scan of your head, and perhaps an MRI, as these tools can yield a lot of information.

A definitive diagnosis cannot be made based on an office exam and questionnaire.

The imaging may include your neck (cervical spine), since problems in the cervical vertebrae such as a pinched nerve can cause frequent headaches and/or pain behind an eye.

This symptom pair of headache + pressure behind the eye is common and can also be caused by a bad sinus infection, though that would not be a neurological cause.

Dr. Kulkarni has a special interest in optic nerve regeneration.
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.