it dry during pregnancy: symptoms, causes and treatments

You knew there were a lot of things that you had to give up during pregnancy – it was all well worth it, of course – but contact lens wear wasn’t on that list!

Yes, your dry eyes may be related to your pregnancy.

You can have dry eye syndrome when you’re not pregnant, but during pregnancy dry and rough eyes are caused by your roller coaster hormones. Oh, the irony: pregnancy hormones that can make you cry one minute can make you dry eyes the next!

Do not worry. Having dry eyes during pregnancy is annoying but otherwise harmless. And that will likely go away a few weeks after giving birth, when your hormone levels balance out.

Here is what you need to know about dry eyes in pregnancy, and what you can do about it.

Dry eyes during pregnancy (or at any time) can give you many different symptoms, including some that you might not have expected. You will likely have symptoms of dry eye in both eyes, but you can also have them in only one eye. They include:

  • redness
  • watery eyes (sounds counterintuitive, but it happens when your body is trying to fix the problem!)
  • pain or tenderness
  • itching
  • a burning or tingling sensation
  • granulation or feeling like something is in your eyes
  • Sticky eyelids or stuck eyelids closed when you wake up
  • difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • white, stringy mucus or pus in or around the eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • poor night vision
  • Blurred vision
  • tired eyes or eye strain

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that can happen to anyone. This normally happens when your eyes aren’t shedding enough tears – or the right kind of tears – to stay moist and comfortable.

Your tears are not just water. They are made up of water, mucus and fatty oils. This finely balanced blend helps keep your eyes moist and clean. If your body isn’t producing enough tears or if the tear mixture changes, you may have dry eyes.

Dry eyes during pregnancy usually happen because your hormones are off the mark. Hormonal changes are important for a healthy pregnancy, but they can cause side effects like dry eyes.

If you are pregnant and suddenly have dry eyes, it is normally because pregnancy hormones cause your body to produce less tears.

One study found that pregnancy causes changes in eyes and tears throughout 9 months, as well as that you may have less concentrated tears in your last trimester, compared to when you started pregnancy.

More research is needed to determine why this happens, but it might have something to do with protecting the eyes from pressure changes that also occur during pregnancy.

Other risk factors for dry eye during pregnancy include:

  • wear contact lenses
  • dehydration
  • be indoors with the heater or fan on
  • be outside in the sun
  • to be outside in the cold or the wind
  • not eating enough foods rich in vitamin A
  • not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet

The following strategies can help prevent dry eye during pregnancy:

  • drink lots of water, especially if you are vomiting
  • eat a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • take a prenatal vitamin (and other supplements if recommended by your OB-GYN or midwife)
  • using a humidifier at home to get rid of dry air
  • keeping plants in your home to help keep the air moist and cool
  • wear sunglasses when you are outside to protect your eyes from the sun and wind
  • avoid staring at screens for too long

And try these three home remedies to help soothe the symptoms of dry eye:

  • Massage your eyes. Wash your hands and gently massage your closed eyelids with your finger over them. This can help increase the production of tears in your eyes.
  • Wash your eyes. Cool the boiled water to make your own sterile solution for cleaning your eyes. Dip a cotton ball in the water and dab it on your closed eyes. Start at the corner of your eyes and work over your upper and lower lids. (This is also a good practice when you need to clean your baby’s eyes!)
  • Mist your face. Make a natural face mist to moisten your face and eyes. Mix sterile water and pure rose water. Store it in a spray bottle and spray your face whenever you need to refresh dry, tired eyes. This solution smells so good that it will also work as a natural fragrance!

Ask your healthcare professional about the best eye drops to use for preventing dry eyes during pregnancy. Most lubricating or moisturizing eye drops (also called artificial tears) are safe to use during pregnancy.

Make sure you are not using medicated eye drops. Check the ingredients and ask your supplier if you are unsure.

It is best to avoid wearing contact lenses and sticking to your glasses. If you must wear contact lenses, try cleaning them more often to prevent them from drying out.

Some eye changes during pregnancy can be more serious than dry eyes.

Tell your healthcare provider immediately if you feel pressure in your eyes or experience eye pain. Eye symptoms may indicate that something serious is going on, such as preeclampsia. See a doctor if you have eye symptoms such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • changes in color vision
  • see auras or halos
  • see flashing lights
  • floats
  • dark spots in your field of vision
  • inability to concentrate
  • temporary or rapid blindness

You may be at a higher risk of serious eye changes during pregnancy if you have any of the following health conditions:

Tell your OB-GYN immediately if you have severe morning sickness or vomiting. If you’re struggling to keep food and water to a minimum, you could become dehydrated quickly. Your provider may recommend medication or an overnight stay in the hospital if you are dehydrated.

Pregnancy can cause other eye changes besides dry eyes. If your vision constantly seems blurry, notify your OB-GYN immediately. You might just need new glasses, as pregnancy hormones can give you dry eyes and slightly alter your vision. These pregnancy symptoms usually return to normal after you have had your baby.

Dry eyes during pregnancy are common and usually harmless. They usually go away on their own a few weeks after your little one gives birth. You can help soothe the symptoms of dry eye with moisturizing eye drops and other home remedies.

Pregnancy hormones can cause many eye changes during pregnancy. Tell your healthcare professional about all your eye symptoms during pregnancy. Dry eyes are usually not serious, but other eye changes can be a sign of a more serious condition like high blood pressure.

Patricia J. Callender