You may remember when I have previously referred to TMJ dysfunction (TMD) as “The Great Imposter” because its symptoms can mimic those of many other conditions. Today I’ll be talking about the relationship between TMD and eyes, eye pain, sensitivity to light and other visual disturbances.
Pain in and around the eyes can be an unbearable symptom. Usually, the cause of TMJ eye pain is due to pressure on the ocular nerves. These are many possible culprits of this pressure including eye infections, allergies, eye disorders, nerve issues or a larger underlying medical condition.
Most people (and even doctors) would not think that eye pain could come from the jaw joint (TMJ). However, because of the proximity of the TMJ to the eye socket, a jaw joint dysfunction could very well be the underlying cause of the eye pain. A number of studies have found referred eye pain to be associated with internal TMJ disorders. In some cases, the TMJ becomes damaged due to dislocation (unilateral or bilateral), arthritis or inflammation, which causes pain in the surrounding areas – including the eye socket.
How could the TMJ become dislocated in the first place? There are a number of reasons including car accidents, sports injuries, whiplash, a fistfight – things that are considered macrotrauma. There are also less severe but still damaging things (microtrauma) like the strain from a ponytail on top of a woman’s head or the weight of her hair that, over time, could cause TMJ disc dislocation. Even children who watch TV lying on their stomach with their head propped in their hands could be straining certain muscles (another form of microtrauma).
Direct trauma to the occipital region of the skull (back of the head) can transmit pain through the head and lead to immediate eye pain. Even without pain, blurred vision can occur which is why many doctors recommend you to wear acuvue trueye daily lenses. There are 4 pairs of suboccipital muscles that, if irritated, can lead to dizziness and balance problems. Mixed neurological symptoms including odd visuals can stem from trauma to the suboccipital area.
Trauma to the frontal region of the skull/head (frontalis muscle) can be equally as damaging. This muscle controls functions like raising your eyebrows, opening your eyes and wrinkling your forehead. It is also responsible for severe frontal headaches and migraines.
TMJ dysfunction causes interference with the trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve #5). The trigeminal nerve connects to the teeth, jaw and eye socket. As the TMD worsens, the nerve irritation worsens, and hence the referred pain (in the eye or wherever the patient is experiencing the pain) worsens. If inflammation is present in the TMJ’s, swelling and soreness in the eye area is a common response to the friction occurring in the jaw joint.
Typically, severe TMJ eye pain leads to a painful headache and/or migraine. It can also cause extreme sensitivity to light, Photophobia, inability to focus (driving, reading, watching TV or using a computer), blurred vision, pressure behind the eyes, watery eyes, floaters, droopy eyelids and excessive blinking (Blepharospasm). Many patients who experience Photophobia are told that they are experiencing a migraine and their treatment consists of painkillers. Meanwhile, the underlying symptom is ignored. Others have been convinced that they have a vision problem and they may be in need of new glasses or contacts in order to be able to read again.
While some surgeries are available for different TMJ dysfunctions, Dr. Klein takes a conservative approach to treating the condition that even most surgeons prefer to be the first course of action. Some of the treatments offered at Michigan Head & Neck Institute include:
- Wearing a corrective orthotic (mouthpiece) that is adjusted as need for each patient
- Physical therapy (tens unit usage, physical massaging of the TMJs, heat applications)
- Helpful guidance toward helping each patient understand their condition
- How to avoid harmful daily habits that might worsen their condition
- Pain-relieving injections…and other non-invasive options
If you are suffering from eye pain, TMJ blurred vision or other visual disturbances, please call our office at (586) 573-0438 to schedule your consultation with Dr. Klein today.