As someone who has been wearing prescription eyeglasses since middle school, I’m all too familiar with the annoying phenomenon of getting a headache from new glasses. Every time my prescription changes, it comes with a few days of a little discomfort and the lingering sense that I’ve been traveling around the world with blurry vision. Yes, it’s great that I can see better, thank you so much, new frames—but must you put my head through the wringer in the process?
I’ve definitely heard similar complaints from other people who use glasses too. Some have even told me they fully stop wearing their new glasses because of the resulting headache. I understand the urge, but an initial headache from new glasses can actually be pretty normal and is by no means a sign that you’re simply not meant to wear spectacles. Here, experts explain why our eyes (and head) sometimes rebel when we get new glasses, when it’s normal and when it’s not, plus how you can try to avoid these headaches in the first place.
Here’s what happens with your eyes when you get new glasses.
Most people who wear prescription glasses are doing so to look smarter compensate for what eye experts call refractive errors, which are imperfections in the shape of the eye that impact focusing power. For example, myopia, or nearsightedness, usually happens when your eyeball is too long or your cornea (the outer layer on the top of your eye) is abnormally curved, according to the Mayo Clinic. Either way, your eye can’t bend light rays properly, which makes it hard to clearly see objects at a distance. Hyperopia, or farsightedness, is when it’s tough to see objects close up because of issues like a too-short eyeball or misshapen cornea, the National Eye Institute says.
There are other kinds of refractive errors that can mess with your vision, but the point is that corrective lenses like eyeglasses can help address them. In the same way that squinting often helps add focusing power so you can see a bit better, glasses change your focusing power so you can see more clearly than before.
Naturally, you would think that with the right prescription your eyes would immediately relax into their new life of well-sighted luxury. Typically, if you already wear glasses and your new prescription hasn’t changed drastically, your eyes will actually adjust pretty easily. But if you’re wearing glasses for the first time or are dealing with a big prescription change, your eyes are going to have to unlearn whatever strategies they were using to see the world as clearly as possible, says Laura Di Meglio, O.D., instructor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“When you’re getting new glasses…your eyes are now learning to compensate [for] these changing visual demands that they’re not used to,” Dr. Di Meglio explains. “Our eyes are made up of all these little muscles and focusing systems and [have] to now readjust.”
Since those muscles and focusing systems suddenly have to work differently, you might develop a headache or just generally feel like something with your eyes is off. (This can also happen with a new or significantly different prescription for contact lenses, for what it’s worth.)
“I would liken it to carrying a backpack that’s really heavy,” says Brieann Adair, O.D., optometrist and clinical instructor in the Department of Ophthalmology at NYU Langone Healthfreall. “Sometimes you don’t even notice that you’re straining [and] your muscles are really tight. Then once you remove that backpack, it feels weird to get back into that relaxed posture.”
Sometimes a headache from new glasses could signal a bigger issue.
“A little bit of a headache with your new glasses that goes away after your first [few] days can be fairly normal, but if you’re having a persistent headache or eye strain…that’s never normal,” Dr. Adair says. Anything longer than a week or so of eye discomfort after getting new glasses (or ever, really) is cause for following up with your doctor, Dr. Di Meglio adds, especially if you’re having other issues like dizziness.
There are a few reasons why your new glasses could give you grief for longer than the typical adjustment period, like if your frames don’t fit your face as they should, Dr. Adair explains. For example, if your glasses are applying too much pressure to your nose or the space behind your ears, you might get a headache as a result.
Another common issue: You could have a stronger or weaker prescription than necessary. You know that part of your eye exam where your doctor asks whether option one or option two is clearer, and how sometimes you can’t quite tell the difference? In some cases, just choosing one or the other instead of really trying to suss out any variations in clarity, no matter how small, can lead to an incorrect prescription, says Elena Beth Roth, M.D., assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Health System. This can, in turn, lead to a headache from eye strain (along with other symptoms like tired eyes, burning or itchy eyes, blurry vision, and difficulty concentrating, according to the Mayo Clinic. On a related note, during your exam, your doctor may have incorrectly measured your pupillary distance (also known as interpupillary distance, this is the amount of space between your pupils). That can also lead to eye strain because getting the right pupillary distance is a key part of proper glasses fit.
Incorrect measurements can be a big cause of your headache if you wear specialty glasses like progressive lenses. Progressive lenses, which have your distance prescription at the top and your reading prescription at the bottom, require really precise measurements so that the different parts of the lenses correspond properly with where you’ll be training your eyes, Dr. Roth explains. “That can be a big problem,” she says.
Here’s how to avoid or fix headaches from new glasses.
No, you can’t just shove your glasses in a drawer and pretend you don’t need ‘em. Trust us, your eyes won’t appreciate that.
What you can do, however, is ease into wearing your new glasses full-time. “I recommend wearing the glasses [for] three to four hours and then taking a break from them over the span of a couple of days,” Dr. Adair says. This gives your eyes time to adapt.
If you’re dealing with a new-glasses headache that’s really bothering you, consider checking in with your doctor even if it’s only been a few days. They might be able to give you some perspective (ha) on what may be causing your discomfort, like improper fit.
The main takeaway here is really two-fold: Adjustment headaches from new glasses shouldn’t linger, and they aren’t an excuse to give up on wearing your glasses.
“It’s kind of like getting a new pair of shoes,” Dr. Di Meglio explains. “You put them on and they’re not the most comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you stop wearing them, because as soon as you [break] them in, they feel great.” And even when breaking them in doesn’t work, because we’ve all been there, you don’t give up wearing shoes, right? (Hopefully?) Instead, you go back to the drawing board and find a pair that feels a bit more comfortable.