First Migraine then Bloodshot Eye – What’s up?

So you had what seemed to be a migraine attack.  First migraine then bloodshot eye.  A bloodshot eye?  Is that a symptoms of migraine?

First I should ask what you mean by a "bloodshot eye".  You could mean that you actually have a large red patch in your eye.  That is what is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.  This happens when one of the tiny blood vessels in the membrane covering your eye bursts.  Though it looks terrible, it’s usually harmless and goes away in a few days to a couple of weeks.  The hemorrhage itself is generally not painful (if it is, talk to your doctor).

A bloodshot eye from infection
A bloodshot eye from an infection

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is rarely associated with migraine.

On the other hand, some people talk about bloodshot eyes and are referring to inflammation.  When the blood vessels become inflamed, they become more red and prominent in the eye.  This type of bloodshot eye, or red eye, is actually very common in migraine.

This migraine attack may include not only red eyes but watery eyes.  The symptoms, along with the congestion that often comes along with migraine, lead many to believe they have a "sinus headache".

Why a Migraine then Bloodshot eye? Possible cause…

As a migraine attack progresses, it causes inflammation, especially around the head and facial area.  It’s this inflammation that may cause the symptoms around the eyes and nose, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, and congestion.  This part of the inflammation probably starts with the trigeminal nerve and spreads.

So what can be done?

If the bloodshot eye is simply part of the migraine attack, migraine treatment should resolve the red eyes along with everything else.  However, this brings us to a couple of warnings.

Are you sure it’s Migraine?

If you’re experiencing new symptoms, or your symptoms have changed, you should talk to a doctor who knows your medical history.  A bloodshot eye could be a sign of something else, and to treat it you need to know what you’re dealing with.  For example, glaucoma, which may also make you nauseous and sensitive to light.

A bloodshot eye is actually a much more common symptom of cluster headache.  Cluster headache pain is often localized around one eye, one side of the temple, or in the upper jaw.  Like migraine, symptoms may include congestion.  The eye may become red, and the eyelid may droop.

During a cluster headache, the person becomes agitated and may pace the floor, where migraine patients more commonly want to lie down in a dark room.

These are called "clusters" because they come in cycles of several weeks or months, then they disappear for months or even years.  The headaches generally last from 15 to 3 hours, and will repeat from every other day to several times a day.

If these symptoms sound like you, you may have cluster headache.  But either way, if you’re having new symptoms, or you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.

The migraine then bloodshot eye sequence is not unusual.  Read here for more on the strange symptoms of migraine.

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7 comments… add one
  • Megan Oltman Feb 28, 2009

    Good information, James! If your bloodshot eyes are not from a migraine but from glaucoma, it still could be migraine related. Migraine sufferers should definitely get checked for glaucoma regularly as there is a high correlation between glaucoma and migraine. Let your eye doctor know you are a migraine sufferer, as they can do a more thorough pressure check than they would for others.
    – Megan

  • James Apr 10, 2009

    Thanks for the reminder, Megan!

  • Terri Massie-Burrell Dec 27, 2009

    My son is 10, and has been diagnosed with migraines since he was about 5. He goes to a pediatric neurologist. This article is very eye opening. I’d like to receive additional information as it becomes available.

  • Ja'mir Jan 12, 2010

    I am a migraine sufferer, and also have one blood shot eye… but the migraine ws definately not the cause here.
    I just woke up one morning with the inner side of one eye totally bloodshot, over the next week it progressed to the outer side also… over 40 days later it now covers my whole eye. Other than being a little scratchy and watery, there is no real pain associated with it,
    I have been given normal eye drops, anti bacterial eye drops, a course of anti biotics, but it is still there… for the world to see and really looks a lot worse than it is, so is always comented on when I had almost forgotten about it .
    Any suggestions ?

  • Brad Aug 23, 2011

    Hi. Im a regular smoker, about a pack a day. I recently had to switch brands because I was having horrible coughing fits that were always followed by an intense (knock you completely out) migraine. When I would get these migraines I would often lash out at everyone and become very restless. A few friends and relatives have witnessed this and have become concerned. It got to the point that it was happening three times a day on some days. I went and had tests done and had a cat scan and a chest xray and both came back normal. But durung these migraines the whites of my eyes are completely red. You cant even tell that there was any white in that area before. I know I should quit smoking but I want to know if there could be something else that is going on or if I should seek medical attn.

  • Tiffany ellis Mar 27, 2016

    Hi! I’m a frequent headache sufferer…had many migraines and a week long spinal headache that kept me flat in a hospital bed after birthing my second child. I have been on blood pressure meds to treat tension headaches(no blood pressure issues) for some time now but last night was a very scary different type of pain. It is now Easter Sunday so I will be waiting to contact my Dr until tomorrow but wanted some thoughts. I had the usual flare up…tightness in the shoulders…nausea….sensitivity to light…yada yada…but then it progressed suddenly and violently…absolutely no light could be near me…I dry heaved for about an hour and had to stay face down on the floor with a blanket over my head or I would cry uncontrollably..literally uncontrollably.. I wasn’t that was just a pain in a different part of my head than usual…I seemed to lose track of time..was quite confused and had trouble speaking and moving. I felt like my head was on fire and I kept telling my boyfriend it felt like my face was bleeding. The total episode lasted a few hours…a lot of time just laying on the floor in the dark. But this morning when I woke up I have a ton of tiny little red dots under and around both my eyes….blood vessels? Is this why I thought my face was bleeding? I felt like I was in a horror movie and very glad it subsided but I wanted to know if this has happened to anyone else?

    • Fay Jun 20, 2017

      Hello Tiffany! Our migraines seem very similar – the little red dots are the eyes are caused by burst blood vessels from the pressur caused by it being very difficult to vomit. Oh dear! They clear up in a few days x

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