This week everyone was buzzing about the first total solar eclipse in the United States since 1918. This rare cosmic experience had people all over the country hunting down eclipse glasses and clearing their afternoons for a viewing. While the eclipse only reached totality in a narrow swath across the country, more than 250 square miles of South Carolina were treated to a view of an incredible total eclipse of the sun.
There was a lot of discussion beforehand about the safety of eclipse viewing, and a responsible eclipse viewer knew that they would need special solar filter glasses — standard sunglasses are thousands of times too weak to actually protect human eyes from even partial direct sunlight. It is safe to look directly at the sun during totality, but only during that small window.
Despite all these safety warnings, google searches for hurt eyes and headaches after the eclipse skyrocketed. But is this just hypochondria, or is a post-eclipse headache truly something to worry about?
What Causes Post-Eclipse Symptoms?
For some people, eclipse viewing events meant spending hours in the sun that they wouldn’t have normally spent. If you weren’t properly hydrated, if you aren’t used to sun exposure, or if you already have migraines due to light sensitivity, this could trigger a headache or migraine completely unrelated to the eclipse itself.
And of course, viewing an eclipse subjects your eyes to significantly more stress than they’re used to. Even through the protection of eclipse glasses, you’re still looking directly at the sun — something you may have done for many minutes during the eclipse, and normally don’t do at all.
This all means that a headache after the eclipse is possible, and even to be expected for some, even if you viewed the eclipse with proper protection. But if you experience a headache for more than a day or so, or if you experience extended blurred or spotty vision, you may want to visit a doctor.
How Do Migraines Even Work?
Part of the confusion about migraines, sunlight, and eclipses comes from the fact that medical researchers still don’t know much about migraines. Despite decades of study, the best that can usually be done for migraines is to monitor your triggers and avoid them. And while we know what triggers are common, that doesn’t mean we know why those specific experiences can trigger migraines.
This makes treating migraines very difficult. However, if your migraine is a result of an identifiable cause and that cause can be treated, prevention may be more manageable. That cause might be viewing an eclipse (an easy experience to avoid, considering the next one isn’t until 2024!)… or it might be TMJ.
Some people who suffer from TMJ experience headaches and migraines as a result of the disorder. If TMJ is the cause of your headaches, TMJ treatment can double as headache prevention and treatment.