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Pegnancy and the Eye: What Expectant Mothers Should Know

Every woman is aware that there are changes to her body that are entirely natural and obvious but many do not know or consider the effects of pregnancy upon the eyes. “During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes drastically to prepare for the birth of her child,” says Dr. Fisher. “An increase in hormones often causes temporary eye conditions and although vision usually returns to normal after delivery, seeing an eyecare professional can help ease the transition process.”

Common changes include:

1. The sensitivity of the cornea progressively decreases throughout pregnancy, particularly during the last three months. This results in a risk to contact lens wearers who may damage the surface of the cornea more than usual. This can lead to red, sore eyes and an intolerance of contact lenses. It is unlikely to cause any problems if there is no visual impairment or only corrective glasses are worn.

2. Ocular fluid retention can affect refraction and results in a change in vision. Spectacle or contact lens wearers can find their existing prescription is either too weak or too strong. Though this is usually nothing to worry about, it’s a good idea to discuss any vision changes with an eye doctor who can help you decide whether or not to change your prescription. It is best to avoid having changing prescriptions until six weeks or more after giving birth as it likely that vision will stabilize by then.

3. Some pregnant women suffer from dry eyes, which are normally only temporary and will disappear after giving birth. The good news is that lubricating or rewetting eye drops are perfectly safe to use while you are pregnant or nursing. If unsure, ask us about eye drops. We know which drops you should use that will not have any detrimental effects on you or your baby.

4. Puffy or swollen areas around the eyelids are a frequent side effect during pregnancy. As a rule of thumb, drinking plenty of water and keeping to a healthy diet low in sodium and caffeine will actually limit water retention and relieve any discomfort.

5. A blotchy, brown discoloration can occur around the eyelids during pregnancy. It is caused by increased pigmentation related to increased estrogen and progesterone. These changes called Chloasma, or the ‘mask of pregnancy’, tends to fade in the postpartum period.

6. The pressure of the fluid in the eye, known as intra-ocular pressure, decreases. It is unlikely that this will be noticeable unless Glaucoma was diagnosed and being treated prior to pregnancy. Women being treated for glaucoma should tell their eye doctor right away if they are pregnant or intend to become pregnant. While many glaucoma medications are safe to take during pregnancy, certain glaucoma medications such as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors can be harmful to the developing baby.

7. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to migraine headaches and sensitivity to bright lights. In some cases, migraine headaches can make eyes feel more sensitive to light. Talk to your doctor before you take any migraine headache medications.

It is important that you know about the changes that take place with your vision and eye health and not be alarmed. Women should also be aware that certain vision problems can be a sign of more serious conditions, such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. It is therefore important for women to monitor vision changes during pregnancy. Problems associated with pregnancy that may affect the eyes include:

1. Pre-eclampsia, which is caused by high blood pressure developing during pregnancy, can have a severe effect upon the eyes. Bleeding in the retina may lead to permanent vision impairment and should be treated without delay.

2. Women who are diabetic before their pregnancy and those who develop gestational diabetes need to watch their vision closely. Blurred vision may be an indication of elevated blood sugar levels. All women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant and have been diagnosed with diabetes should get a full, dilated eye exam. Sufferers of diabetic eye disease should consult with their doctor before planning a pregnancy.

3. Blood can clot more quickly when pregnant so it is important to remain sensibly active and mobile throughout the term to keep the blood circulation from slowing. If not thrombosis of the cerebral blood vessels may develop which may lead to field of vision problems and other neurological defects.

4. In rare cases, a form of skin cancer called Malignant Melanoma can develop during pregnancy. Due to the hormonal changes that take place, the progress of this cancer becomes quicker and first indications can appear in the eye.

5. Another result of the changes to the body is the occasional development of diminishing vision accompanied by blank areas in the field of vision and headaches. This is caused by pressure on the optic nerves as a result of some Pituitary Gland tumors suddenly enlarging.

6. If you are using any type of medication whatsoever including most importantly eye drops for Glaucoma check with your physician and your eye doctor without delay. Certain treatments for eye problems can have a catastrophic effect on an unborn baby. There are alternative medications that can be prescribed that have no harmful side effects on mothers and their unborn babies.