Mass. Eye and Ear ophthalmologist Stacey Brauner, MD, explains some of the visual symptoms that pregnant women may experience.
Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body, including her eyes. Some of these changes are mild, while others are serious and should be monitored by an ophthalmologist and/or an obstetrician. Most visual symptoms are related to hormonal changes and fluid retention, and they resolve postpartum.
Dry eye, caused by hormonal changes, is common during pregnancy. Symptoms include dryness, irritation, itching and blurred vision. Women who use contact lenses may experience irritation or become contact lens intolerant during pregnancy.
“I recommend using over-the-counter artificial tears, placing a humidifier in the bedroom at night, and decreasing contact lens wearing time,” said Stacey Brauner, MD, an eye specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear.
Pregnant women often experience blurry vision that is caused by hormonal changes and fluid retention. When fluid is retained, it can change the shape and curvature of the cornea (the front part of the eye). This can lead to a slight change in eyeglass or contact lens prescription.
“Because these changes usually resolve quickly after delivery and are mild, no action is typically needed,” said Dr. Brauner. “However, refractive surgery, such as LASIK, is not recommended during pregnancy because of the changes in the cornea.”
Visual Symptoms of Preeclampsia
In a small percentage of pregnant women, more significant changes in vision can occur. Changes can include light sensitivity, auras and flashing lights, blind spots, double vision, peripheral vision defects, and blindness or temporary loss of vision. These changes can be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure and swelling of the face, hands and feet.
“Pregnant women who are experiencing these symptoms should immediately consult with their obstetrician and schedule an eye exam,” said Dr. Brauner.
Preexisting Diabetic Eye Disease
Women who develop gestational diabetes may experience blurry vision if they’re having large fluctuations in blood sugar. However, they typically do not develop diabetic eye disease—a condition that damages the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye—because gestational diabetes only lasts for a short time.
“The greater risk is in pregnant women who have preexisting diabetic eye disease, because it may worsen during pregnancy,” explained Dr. Brauner. “These women should have diabetic eye exams before and during pregnancy to make sure no treatment is needed.”
About our Expert
Dr. Stacey Brauner is an ophthalmologist at Mass. Eye and Ear who specializes in cataracts and glaucoma. She sees patients at two locations: Main Campus (243 Charles Street) and Stoneham (1 Montvale Avenue).