Eye Exam Reveals Source of Debilitating Migraines


A local teen who was born with bleeding on his brain and then suffered with years of migraines is finally pain free. Amazingly, it was a simple eye exam that saved his life.

Joey Harlan said he is relieved to be rid of a lifetime of excruciating migraines but even more grateful to be alive. As a newborn, doctors gave him only a few months to live. But he proved those doctors wrong, and he even graduated high school earlier this year.

But it hasn’t been easy for Harlan, who battled constant headaches.

“Really hard, stomping pain that would never go away,” he said.

The migraines began when he was only 4 years old.

“He would sit there in the chair and say, ‘ow.’ And he would pick at his head like he had been through a car crash. He pulled all of his hair out in the back, because he was in so much pain,” said his mother, Suzy Harlan.

Several months ago, those migraines became debilitating. In a span of just two weeks, Joey Harlan began passing out and having trouble walking.

“You’re sitting there and see your child in pain, and wish you could take every bit of it away from him and give it to yourself,” Suzy Harlan said.

The Harlans made numerous visits to pediatricians, neurologists and emergency rooms, and still no one could find a cure – until Suzy Harlan realized something.

“No one looked in his eyes. We had MRIs and CAT scans,” Suzy Harlan said.

After all of those years, it was an optical exam and a 3-D image of his eyes that saved Joey Harlan’s life.

“When you have high spinal fluid levels in the body, and especially in the cranial area, this nerve tends to protrude and actually bulge out,” said Dr. David Gavami, optometrist physician.

Surprisingly, the pain was the least of Joey Harlan’s troubles.

“You could have brain damage, seizures. There’s a whole array of trouble you could run into when your spinal fluids are off,” Gavami said.

Gavami stressed the importance of getting a thorough eye exam yearly and to watch for warning sings, such as nausea, headaches, blood pressure spikes and poor vision. Each could be indicators of pressure on the optic nerve.

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