Pregnancy And Vision

Changes, Causes, And More

by Cassandria Warr // July - August - September 2022

Congratulations! A baby is on the way! Pregnancy brings big physical changes to your body so it’s no surprise that it can have an effect on everything from your blood pressure to your dental health. But did you know that pregnancy can also cause changes to your eyesight? When you are pregnant, you might experience changes in the quality of your eyesight. Most changes are usually minor and may be temporary. Your eyesight should return to normal slightly after your baby is born, but some vision problems linked to pregnancy may require medical attention.

Pregnancy involves an enormous surge of hormones, increased fluid retention, and often a change in blood pressure, all while your body is under considerable strain. The cascade of hormones flooding a pregnant woman’s body affects every tissue and organ, including the eyes.

Not every person will notice changes to their eyesight during pregnancy, since it affects people differently. It is impossible to predict whether you may be affected or not, but it is important to know the potential issues that could occur. Following is an explanation of the most common eye changes of pregnancy, what causes them, and what to do about them.

Blurry Vision and Dry Eyes: The surging hormones of pregnancy can cause the quality and amount of tear production in the eye to change, leading to dry eye syndrome. Symptoms can be excessive tearing, intermittent blurry vision, and often a burning sensation. Symptoms of dry eye can often be treated with warm compresses and over-the-counter artificial tears. If needed, your eye doctor can also prescribe medication to help.

Refractive Changes: Clarity of vision depends on the way our eyes bend, or refract, light. When we need glasses or contact lenses to help with the clarity of vision, it is called a refractive error. Fluid retention in pregnancy can cause changes in refractive error by altering the thickness of the front of the eye (the cornea). This change will typically revert to normal once delivery has occurred.

Wearing Contact Lenses: It is good to know that contact lenses, contact lens solutions, and enzymatic cleaners are safe to use while you are pregnant. If your eyes are dry and irritated while wearing contact lenses, you can use artificial tears with the contacts. Sometimes pregnancy can make the eyes dry enough that the contact lenses just feel too uncomfortable. After delivery of the baby, your eyes should return to normal.

Pregnancy and LASIK: Doctors do not recommend LASIK during pregnancy, since most vision changes are often temporary. Also, because changes can occur due to swelling, this could cause the results of LASIK to not be correct. It is recommended to wait at least six months postpartum before having LASIK.

Puffy Eyelids: Puffiness around the eyes is a common side effect of certain hormonal changes that women may have while pregnant. Drink plenty of water and stick to a moderate diet low in sodium and caffeine to help limit water retention and boost overall comfort.

Migraines and Increased Sensitivity to Light: Around 40% of women will experience migraines at some point in their lives. Pregnant women who suffer from migraines often experience some relief in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, but migraines may flare during the postpartum period due to abrupt declines in estrogen levels. Sensitivity to light, also called photophobia, is a common symptom of migraines. Wearing sunglasses or turning off lights when having this symptom is helpful.

Diabetes: High blood sugar levels linked to diabetes can damage the small blood vessels that supply your retina, resulting in diabetic retinopathy. The chances of this happening increase as pregnancy progresses. Signs of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, floaters, and dark spots in the field of vision, fluctuating vision, and missing areas of vision. It is best to keep close tabs on your blood sugar while pregnant.

Some women may develop gestational diabetes, which is typically a temporary form of diabetes. This can sometimes cause blurred vision. Keeping your blood sugar under control will help prevent vision changes. If you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should be examined by your eye doctor.

Pre-eclampsia: Your eyes can provide a warming sign of a potentially serious condition during pregnancy called pre-eclampsia, which is dangerously high blood pressure. This complication affects about 5% of pregnant women and may occur around the twentieth week of pregnancy. New onset hypertension and proteinuria (excess protein in the urine) are two cardinal signs. Since blood pressure can soar rapidly and endanger the health of both mother and baby, medical attention is needed. Visual symptoms can include blurred vision, auras of flashing lights, floaters, or dark spots in the field of vision, sudden inability to focus the eyes, and even temporary blindness. More significant eye problems can occur, including retinal swelling and bleeding. Headaches and digestive distress are often present. It is important not to ignore these visual symptoms; you should see a doctor right away. Treatment may include blood pressure medications; however, if these do not work and the pregnancy is far enough along, the doctor may decide an early delivery is necessary.

Pregnancy is a glorious time when the body is changing rapidly and it makes sense to nourish your entire body, including your eyes, with healthy foods and an adequate amount of rest. Be sure to eat well, including lots of leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon and sardines. Finally, get plenty of rest, keep hydrated, and look forward to the moment you will see, with your own eyes, your newborn baby.

Cassandria Warr

Developmental optometrist with McPherson Family Eye Care in Wake Forest.