Pregnancy causes a number of different effects on the eyes. These include changes to your glasses prescription, decreased tolerance to contact lenses, worsening of some systemic conditions (such as diabetes) and, dry eye.
These changes are usually temporary, and disappear shortly after your baby is born or you stop breast-feeding, but they can cause problems in the short term.
What are the effects of pregnancy and breast-feeding on your eyes?
Pregnancy causes several changes to your eyes. Your corneal thickness, sensitivity and curvature change, and these reasons, coupled with an increase in your myopia (short-sightedness) make it a bad time to consider laser eye surgery. The curvature changes to your cornea may mean that your contact lenses no longer fit you comfortably, although this is less of an issue with soft lenses.
Does pregnancy cause dry eyes?
The raised oestrogen levels present in pregnancy and lactation can play havoc with your eyes. Oestrogen has an impact on the size and production of the sebaceous glands of your body, including the row of oil-producing glands at the edge of each eyelid. Situated just behind your eyelashes, these glands play an essential role in balancing your tear film. Tears are made up of three layers. The first is a thin layer of mucus that helps anchor the tear layer onto the surface of the eye.
The bulk of your tear film consists of aqueous (watery) tears, which are produced in your lacrimal gland, situated just under the eyebrows. And the top layer is a thin coating of oil which prevents the watery layer from evaporating into thin air. If this oily layer is disrupted, it doesn’t matter how much watery tears you produce, they will evaporate leaving you with dry eyes. Oestrogen changes the consistency of the secretions from the oil glands and reduces oil production. And this can mean trouble!
What can I do if I have dry eye during pregnancy?
The nausea and vomiting experienced by many women during pregnancy can lead to dehydration, as can the medications taken to relieve this nausea. The good news is that the dryness is likely to improve once your hormones return to normal. In the meantime, most doctors agree that unpreserved artificial tears are safe to use to lubricate very dry eyes. Sometimes the simplest solution is to stop wearing your contact lenses for the duration of the pregnancy.
Like many doctors, my rule of thumb is to use the least amount of medication possible – even if it is generally assumed to be safe. There are lots of natural options to support your eyes during this time. Nutritional supplements like Omega 3 oils can boost the quality of your tears from the inside. You can also have your tears retained in your eyes for longer through the use of tiny silicone devices called punctal plugs, which sit inside the tear drainage ducts (and act a bit like a bath plug!)
Pregnancy is meant to be a wonderful time in a woman’s life but it can be marred by unpleasant side effects. Luckily dry eye is treatable and the eyes quickly return to their pre-pregnancy state within a few months of delivery or stopping breastfeeding.