6 Ways Pregnancy Can Affect Your Eyes

As an optometrist and first time mom-to-be, I thought it would be fitting to write a post on what you may expect to happen to your eyes while you're expecting and once your Little One has arrived.

There are loads of changes your body experiences during pregnancy (that's an understatement), so it's no surprise that your eyes may be affected, too. From my clinical experience, most pregnant women and nursing mothers are caught off-guard by their visual and ocular changes, or when I tell them that we are going to skip using eye drops during their exam. It seems, though, that this is more common than you'd think. In fact, recently, an AOA survey found that 1 in 6 expectant moms experienced vision changes during pregnancy, and 2 out of 5 moms weren’t even aware that vision changes were possible.

Photo credit: OptomEyesLife

Six Ways Pregnancy Can Affect Your Eyes

If there's one thing you can count on during pregnancy, it's the unpredictability of it all. How will I feel today? Tomorrow? Next week? Every pregnant woman's experience is different, and there's no way of knowing which symptoms you'll be affected by, or which ones you'll thankfully miss out on. With all the hormonal and physical changes that come with pregnancy, don't be alarmed if your eyesight is affected, too.

Here are six ocular issues to look out for during your pregnancy:

1. Blurred Vision

Later in pregnancy, expectant mothers can experience swelling in every body part imaginable—including the eyes—due to fluid retention. Blurry vision is often a result of changes in the shape and thickness of your cornea, but it may also be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as preeclampsia or diabetes (see below for more on these conditions).

What to do: Have an eye doctor check your prescription for changes. If you're having a lot of difficulty with your vision, go ahead and update your glasses and/or contact lenses. If it's not that problematic, you can wait until after you've delivered your baby, when your vision should return back to normal. It is not advised to have LASIK surgery during this timespan: between six months before conception and six months after delivery (or six months after weaning off breastfeeding).

2. Puffy Eyelids

At this point, let's be honest: What part of my body isn't puffy? (Better yet, where's this "pregnancy glow" everyone told me about?) Puffiness around the eyes is another common side effect of hormonal changes women may have while pregnant. Swollen eyelids may interfere with your peripheral vision.

What to do: Drink plenty of fluids (pregnant women need more than average) and stick to a diet that is low in sodium and caffeine. Use cold compresses or an eye mask that you can chill in the freezer to calm any swelling.

3. Dry Eyes

Your eyes may feel drier and more irritating due to—you guessed it—pregnancy hormones, since they decrease tear production. You may find that you feel more comfortable wearing glasses instead of contact lenses, as your lenses may dry out by the end of the day.

What to do: Use over-the-counter artificial tears to help relieve symptoms of dryness. If you wear contact lenses, look for a brand that is compatible with contact lens wear, as some contain preservatives that may cause problems with your contact lenses. When in doubt, ask your eye doctor to give you a recommendation before purchasing.

4. Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches linked to hormonal changes are very common among pregnant women. In some cases, migraine headaches may make your eyes feel more sensitive to light.

What to do: Again, have your prescription checked and update your eyeglasses and/or contact lenses, if necessary. Talk to your OB/GYN or CNM before taking any prescription or non-prescription medications for your headaches, as there are many medications that are best to be avoided during your pregnancy.

Photo credit: OptomEyesLife

On a personal note: I had a sudden increase in headaches that would last for days with no relief, as I transitioned from the first to second trimester. When I addressed my concerns to my provider, she recommended that I get an eye exam first (she didn't know my profession beforehand, but I appreciated the irony of telling an eye doctor to get an eye exam!). She was right on target though, as it turned out my prescription had significantly changed and the glasses I was wearing had been triggering my headaches. By updating my lenses with the new prescription, thankfully, my headaches were no longer an issue.

5. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. It is known to cause retinal vascular changes (retinopathy) and visual symptoms, such as: temporary loss of vision, blurred vision, light sensitivity, or sensations of flashing lights, auras, or spots. It is thought that these vision changes may be associated with central nervous system irritation or be an indication of swelling of the brain (cerebral edema). At extremely high levels, blood pressure can even cause a retinal detachment.

What to do: If you have any of these symptoms, call your eye doctor ASAP or go to the ER if you are unable to reach your doctor. Preeclampsia can progress rapidly and cause bleeding and other serious problems, so emergent evaluation is important.

6. Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect you and your baby's health. Elevated blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply your retina, leading to blurry vision.

What to do: If you are diabetic before getting pregnant, pay careful attention to your blood sugar during your pregnancy. If you end up developing gestational diabetes, your doctor will advise you how to keep your blood sugar levels under good control (typically diet, exercise, and possibly medication).

The good news? Most of these eye health and vision issues are minor and temporary, and should return back to normal after your baby is born. That's when everything else changes and there's no guarantee that your life will ever be considered "normal" again!

Did you experience any vision changes or eye issues during your pregnancy? Share your story with us in the comments below!

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