Just why can reading sometimes cause you to suffer a headache? Can it be an aneurysm, brain bleed or tumor that just happens to occur when reading?
“Basically, reading requires a lot of focus,” says Sashini Seeni, MD, a family medicine practitioner with DoctorOnCall, an online doctor and pharmacy.
“Focusing of the eye is done by the muscles in and around the eyeball.
“Focusing for a long period of time needs these muscles to work harder than when you’re relaxing.
“So when you’re having headaches when you read, you’re experiencing a condition called eye strain.
“When you’re reading, you might not notice that you put so much strain on your eyes as they struggle to see the words and eliminate any blurriness and double vision.
“Common symptoms of eye strains are headaches, dizziness and disorientation.
“If you’re experiencing eye strain then take a break and rest for a little while.
“Eye strain is a sign that your body is telling you’re overworking your eyes. The pain will subside after you rest a bit.”
Telling the Difference Between a Headache from Reading and One from a Serious Cause
It’s always possible to suffer a headache from an aneurysm, brain bleed or tumor while you’re reading or shortly after, which may create the illusion that the pain is from reading too much or trying to focus on fine print.
It’s very dangerous to blow off a significant headache as a mere strain from too much eye work.
A reading headache is dull or mild, sometimes moderate.
It is not searing or debilitaing. It does not get described as a “crown of thorns” or “splitting” type of pain.
Pain from a rupturing aneurysm, brain tumor or bleed would be a type of headache that feels like nothing you’ve ever had before — or at least, nothing you ever recall experiencing.
There’d also probably be other symptoms.
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.
Her legs were also very weak.
My father thought it was caused by “eye strain from all that sewing.”
I didn’t buy into that and took her to the ER.
She was diagnosed with bleeding on the brain – caused by a fall six weeks prior.
Again, eye strain does NOT cause a severe headache or one that’s high on the zero to 10 pain scale, even though it can be very annoying and bothersome.
The reading headache 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.