The Effects of Pregnancy on the Eyes

by | Nov 12, 2013 | Featured, News

Although most expectant mothers know that pregnancy comes with morning sickness and sleep deprivation, they do not always expect pregnancy to affect their vision or their eyes. Aside from influencing other parts of the body, the physical and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy can also significantly affect how a woman sees. Although most of the effects are mild and temporary, an expectant mother should take note of any eye problems, as they might require close follow-up or treatment. Just like you go to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned, you should see your optometrist to have your eyes examined when you are pregnant. You should especially get an eye exam if you have any systemic or eye conditions, as the changes in your metabolism, blood circulation, and hormones can worsen an existing condition. 

Blurry Vision

            Why it happens:

Just as the rest of a pregnant woman’s body retains fluid, so do parts of the eye. As fluid retention increases, the cornea (the clear front most part of the eye) and the lens (the crystalline lens which sits behind the colored part of the eye) change their shape and curvature. These slight changes will result in blurred or distorted vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you might notice that your vision is not as clear as it used to be WITH YOUR OLD LENSES. Most women notice that they become slightly more nearsighted. If your contact lenses feel uncomfortable, it may be due to a now poor fit of the lens as the curvature of the cornea has changed. Fortunately, most if not all, of these changes resolve on their own several months after you give birth or stop breastfeeding. 

            What to do about it:

If the change in vision is not significant enough to cause a lot of problems for you, try to hold off on purchasing new glasses or contacts since the prescription might fluctuate again. If the change in vision is significant and affecting you, a new prescription can be written. If a contact lens becomes too loose on the eye due to the change in curvature of the cornea, the lens can cause irritation and potentially scratch the eyeball or inner eyelids. If you have to wear contact lenses, check with your eye doctor that the lenses still fit properly. Try to avoid any permanent changes to your eyes at this point, such as surgery to help improve your vision. There are other, LESS COMMON causes of blurry vision, including swelling or bleeding in the back of the eyes. Be sure to discuss any changes in your vision with your eye doctor. 

Dry Eyes

Why it happens:

As the pregnancy hormones increase, the concentration of the male hormones, called androgens, decrease. Pregnancy may also cause decreased function of the cells which produce our normal, natural tears. These changes influence the amount and quality of tears that are produced and cause dryness of the eyes, especially if you wear contact lenses. You may experience redness, irritation, burning, tearing, and a gritty feeling of the eyes. 

What to do about it:

If your eyes feel dry and your vision fluctuates due to the dryness, you can try using over-the-counter lubricating eye gels which have no preservatives and no medications. If wearing contact lenses is bothering you, consider decreasing the time you spend in your lenses, switching brands, or discontinue their use altogether until you give birth or stop breastfeeding. If you use a computer for a long period of time on any day, be sure to take frequent breaks, twenty seconds for every twenty minutes of work, and drink lots of water to help prevent dryness. Try using a humidifier, especially in the winter, as heaters can dry out the air around you. 

Lid Droop

Why it happens:

Drooping of the upper eyelid, called ptosis, has been reported with pregnancy. The droop usually happens in one eye, changes with time, and goes away several months after delivery. The cause of the droop is likely hormonal changes as well as fluid retention. 

 What to do about it:

A droop due to fluid retention, while bothersome, is not dangerous. However, if you have a drooping eyelid, it can be a sign of more serious problem and you should see your doctor. 

Glaucoma

Why it happens:

Glaucoma is a potentially blinding disease of the optic nerve which connects the eyes to the brain. While there are many forms and causes of glaucoma, elevation of the pressure inside of the eyes is one of the more common risk factors. Aqueous fluid is formed inside of the eye and provides nutrients to the front part of the eye. The fluid is then drained out of the eyes and absorbed into the bloodstream. If too much fluid is produced, or the fluid is not drained quickly enough, the pressure inside the eye increases. This increased pressure damages the optic nerve by pressing on the nerve mechanically and cutting off blood supply to the nerve.

What to do about it:

Pregnancy, especially the second trimester, is associated with a slight decrease of the ocular pressure. This may occur either from a decrease in fluid produced or increase in fluid outflow. This change in pressure usually returns to pre-pregnancy levels two months after giving birth. If you have a personal or family history of glaucoma or if you suspect you may have glaucoma, be sure to let your doctor know before you get pregnant as it may change the course of treatment. 

Preeclampsia, Gestational Diabetes and other Systemic Diseases

Why it happens:

High blood pressure and high sugar levels can affect the small blood vessels which supply the retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eyes. Significantly elevated blood pressure or blood sugar, as well as other diseases exacerbated by the pregnancy, can damage these vessels and cause symptoms such as loss of vision in one or both eyes, very blurry vision, wavy appearance of straight lines, appearance of flashing lights or spots in your vision, double vision, light sensitivity, puffiness around the eyes, and/or pain and redness of the eyes. 

What to do about it:

 If you experience any of the abovementioned symptoms, contact your doctor right away. If any of these symptoms occur, your eye doctor will likely dilate your eyes to check for the cause of the problem. Dilation includes using drops to increase the size of the pupil (the dark circular part at the front of the eye) to allow clear views of the back of the eye. Although not every expectant mother will be dilated, using dilating drops properly is safe for both the mother and baby, especially after the first trimester. 

Before using any eye drops, speak with your eye doctor to ensure that the drops are safe for you and your baby. If you have a preexisting eye or health problem, be sure to visit your eye doctor before and during your pregnancy to ensure your eyes are healthy and no change in treatment or new treatment is indicated. As a woman goes through her pregnancy, she should strive to take good care of her whole body, including her eyes. 

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