An ‘Eye’ on Pregnancy

Stretch marks or the need to go up a shoe size are expected, but few women realize that pregnancy can impact the way they see the world. In fact, the same pregnancy hormones responsible for your enhanced bust line and first-trimester nausea can be responsible for fluctuations in your vision, dry eyes and increased eye irritation.

Dr. Valerie Kattouf, D.O., a spokeswoman for the American Optometric Association, says vision changes are typical during pregnancy. “Even though every pregnant woman doesn’t experience blurriness or need new lenses, many find the hormonal fluctuations can cause a myriad of vision symptoms during pregnancy and throughout nursing,” says Kattouf.

What to Expect

According to the American Optometric Association, dry eyes are expectant women’s most common eye-related complaint. The source of irritation, eyestrain and overall discomfort, dry eyes are caused by fluctuations of estrogen and androgen that decrease production of your natural tears. Symptoms may include dryness, irritation, burning and a gritty feeling.

Dry eyes are troublesome for any mom-to-be, but if you wear contacts, the condition can be especially bothersome. To relieve some or all of the discomfort, wear glasses one day, contacts the next, avoid wearing your contacts for an extended length of time and try switching to a different brand of contacts.

Though the majority of trips to the eye doctor are because of dry eyes, pregnant women also commonly experience thickening of the cornea, the dome-shaped outer layer of the eye that helps you put images in focus, says Kattouf. Retained fluids are the cause of this thickening and it can result in refractive changes such as blurred vision, which may occur suddenly, worsen gradually or come on intermittently. Like dry eyes, this alteration in the cornea can make wearing contact lenses uncomfortable.

What to do? Says Kattouf, “Depending on when during the pregnancy refractive changes occur, and the severity of the changes, eye doctors may either alter the prescription for contacts or eye glasses, or suggest a woman wait until she delivers to make changes.” This might seem frustrating, but experts recommend you don’t make changes to your lenses during the last trimester and for the 6 to 9 months after delivery or ceasing nursing.

Because hormonal spikes and surges usually drive pregnancy vision issues, you may experience changes at any time during pregnancy, but thankfully, they usually reverse themselves after childbirth. In fact, if your eye doctor does opt to alter your lenses, keep your original contacts or glasses.

Although most pregnancy-related vision issues are not serious, experts caution that significant vision changes can be the first signs of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. “Diabetics should be seen by an eye doctor at least once per trimester or more,” says Dr. Janet S. Sunness, M.D., at the Hoover Rehabilitation Services for Low Vision and Blindness at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Women who’ve been diagnosed with preeclampsia, the next step after gestational hypertension, may also experience blurred vision, see spots in their field of vision or have decreased or partial vision in one or both eyes. Sunness recommends monitoring this during pregnancy, though it should reverse itself after childbirth.

If you experience vision loss in one or both eyes, whether you have preeclampsia or not, see an eye doctor. “These symptoms may be related to the eye or to the brain,” Sunness says.

Seeing Clearly Again

Optometrists recommend annual eye exams for anyone over the age of 18. You shouldn’t put off going to the eye doctor when you’re pregnant. But, as long as you’re keeping up with your annual exams, you don’t have to make a special trip to the eye doctor just because you’re expecting. However, if you experience any changes in your vision or eye-related discomfort, including blurriness or dry eyes, Kattouf says you should have your eyes checked.

If you visit the eye doctor when you’re pregnant, the exam won’t vary much from a typical one. However, you may have to make a choice about having your eyes dilated. Though there’s no evidence dilation causes complications, some women opt to not have their eyes dilated because the drops can be absorbed into the bloodstream. A new screening technology, Optomap, does provide an alternative to dilation, but it is relatively new, it may not be available in all practices and it may not be covered by insurance.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance magazine writer who lives in New York with her husband and son.

Eye-Soothing Advice

•Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.

•Take breaks while reading or using the computer.

•Use a humidifier at night.

•Apply over-the-counter lubricating eye drops that contain “artificial tears.” Lens wearers might prefer contact lens rewetting drops.

•Place reusable hot or cold packs on eyes to relax on contact.