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Pregnancy and Dry Eyes: Symptoms & Treatment

Does pregnancy cause dry eyes? This article gives answers about dry eyes and pregnancy, plus 9 ways to treat dry eyes while pregnant.

By Ashley Welch

While pregnancy is generally a happy and exciting time in a woman’s life, it can also lead to a number of health issues. Weight gain, hypertension, and changes in mood are common complications you’re likely already aware of, but one area you may not expect pregnancy to impact is your eyes and eyesight.

Indeed, hormonal changes can cause dry, itchy, and burning eyes during pregnancy. Eye pain during pregnancy is also not uncommon. Sometimes, you may even experience blurred vision. These symptoms can be quite uncomfortable and are likely the last thing you want to think about while preparing to bring new life into the world.

Luckily, there are treatment options that are safe and effective for dry eyes during pregnancy. Read on to learn the link between dry eyes and pregnancy, how to spot the signs, and what you can do to feel better.

Does pregnancy cause dry eye disease?

Dry eyes occur when the glands in your eyes don’t produce enough tears or if there is a problem with the quality of the tears that they’re producing. As a result, there is an imbalance of moisture in the eyes, leading to dryness and discomfort. This is a common ailment, affecting millions of Americans each year.

Dry eyes are more common in women than in men. Additionally, research studies show that the overall rate of dry eyes in pregnant women is higher than in non-pregnant women.

While researchers don’t fully understand why dry eyes are more common in pregnant people, it is believed that hormonal changes are the culprit. Hormonal changes play an important role in regulating a healthy pregnancy, but they can cause a number of side effects, including dry eyes. These hormonal fluctuations are thought to impact the amount and quality of tears the eyes produce, leading to dry eyes. Similar effects are seen in women experiencing hormonal changes due to menopause or certain forms of birth control.

In addition to hormonal changes, dehydration resulting from nausea and vomiting can cause or exacerbate dry eyes. Both of those symptoms are quite common during pregnancy.

Dry eyes and pregnancy: Symptoms and Complications

Dry eyes can be extremely uncomfortable, particularly during pregnancy. Dry eye symptoms[a] can include:

You may also feel a grittiness or a sensation as if there is something in your eye, have blurred vision, experience sensitivity to light, have difficulty wearing contact lenses, and difficulty with night time driving. Additionally, while it may be counterintuitive, watery eyes may also be a sign of dry eyes. This is the body’s reaction to the irritation caused by dry eyes.

While most cases of dry eyes during pregnancy won’t lead to any serious health consequences, dry eye may leave you at risk for certain complications. These include an increased risk of eye infections, as tears normally protect your eyes from foreign pathogens. If left untreated, dry eyes may also cause inflammation, abrasion of the surface of the cornea, corneal ulcers, and even vision loss.

Dry eyes and pregnancy: What are the best treatment options?

Fortunately, for most women, dry eyes usually go away after delivery. But there are steps you can take to find relief while pregnant.

Can I use eye drops when pregnant?

A question that may come to mind while considering treatment for dry eyes is “can I use eye drops when pregnant?” Lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, are one of the most effective treatments for dry eyes. Fortunately, yes, most formulations of eye drops are safe for pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about which drops are appropriate for you. Lubricating drops are available in over-the-counter formulas and prescription strength.

Contact lenses and contact lens solutions are also safe to use while pregnant. However, if your eyes are dry, wearing contact lenses can be uncomfortable. Cleaning your contact lenses more often may help ease some of this discomfort. If wearing contact lenses becomes too irritating, it may be best to stick with glasses.

You may also want to try some lifestyle changes or make some changes to your home environment to ease the symptoms of dry eyes. These include:

1. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water is important for overall health and to help relieve dry eyes. This is especially true for pregnant people, particularly if you are suffering from nausea and vomiting. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pregnant women should drink 8 to 12 cups of water each day. Staying hydrated can help shake the connection between dry eyes and pregnancy.

2. Get a humidifier

If the air in your home is too dry, it can contribute to dry eye symptoms. A humidifier can add moisture to the air, preventing it from getting too dry.

3. Limit screen time

Staring at screens for too long can strain your eyes and make dry eye symptoms worse. Take regular breaks from your phone, tablet, laptop, and television throughout the day.

4. Protect your eyes when outside

Exposure to the sun and the wind can dry out your eyes more quickly. Consider wearing wrap-around sunglasses while outdoors to protect your eyes from the elements.

5. Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet

Research suggests that regularly consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help ease symptoms of dry eyes. In fact, one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involving 32,000 women found that participants who consumed high levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a lower risk of dry eyes compared to those who ate little or none. If you’ve been noticing a dry eyes and pregnancy connection in your life, getting more omega-3’s can help.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in many forms of seafood, including salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, menhaden, and cod liver, as well as flax seeds and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in capsule form. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement, especially when pregnant.

6. Quit smoking

Smoke can worsen symptoms of dry eye disease. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about coming up with a strategy to quit. If you don’t smoke, try to avoid others when they are smoking.

7. Avoid letting air blow into your eyes.

Air from hair dryers, air conditioners, fans, and car heaters can dry out your eyes. To avoid this, don’t direct the airflow toward your eyes.

8. Pamper your eyes

Sometimes, giving your eyes a little TLC can go a long way. Gently massaging your eyelids and applying a warm compress on the eyes may also provide relief from dry eyes. If you’ve spotted a dry eyes and pregnancy link in your life, engage in a little soothing self care.

9. A procedure to block your tear ducts

If none of these treatments work for you, your doctor may recommend a procedure to block your tear ducts, keeping your natural tears in your eyes longer. This involves inserting tiny silicone or gel plugs, called punctal plugs, into the tear ducts. These plugs can be removed at any time and the procedure is safe during pregnancy.

Causes of dry eyes other than pregnancy

While pregnancy is a common cause of dry eyes[b], other factors may be at play.

Environmental factors, like exposure to smoke, wind, and sunlight, as well as prolonged exposure to screens, can lead to dry eyes. Air that is too dry, such as in your home or office, may also be the culprit.

Dry eyes can also be a result of certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and lupus. Eye problems like blepharitis — a condition in which the eyelids become swollen or red or when the eyelids turn inward or outward — can also cause dry eyes.

Sometimes, dry eyes are a side effect of medications. Blood pressure medication like diuretics and beta blockers are known to cause dry eyes. Antihistamines (used to treat allergies and the common cold), heartburn medications, sleeping pills, and antidepressants may also lead to dry eyes. Talk to your doctor if you think any of these medications may be related to your dry eyes.

Dry eyes and pregnancy - Summary

The dry eyes and pregnancy link is real, and dry eyes are more common in women than in men. While far from being the only cause, hormonal changes during pregnancy are a common reason for dry eyes in women. Luckily, there are a number of remedies to treat dry eyes that are safe to use during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about using dry eye drops to relieve symptoms of dry eyes while pregnant. For more details on the right treatment options for you, consider taking the Dry Eye At-Home Diagnostic Quiz.

For more medical resources related to eye ailments, read on:

Does Diabetes Cause Dry Eyes?

Does Menopause Cause Dry Eyes?

Is Your Eye Pain a Symptom of COVID-19 or From Wearing a Mask?

Common Causes of Dry Skin Around the Eyes

Sjogren’s Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

[a]Harrison -- Replace with link to our own article (publishing soon).

[b]Replace with a link to our own "what is dry eye" article when published.