It is more common for women to have dry eye, but the chances of having it also increase beyond normal levels during times of hormonal shifts such as menopause and pregnancy. Levels of male androgen hormone decrease during these hormonal changes, and that affects tear and lipid production. Since the tear film is made up of aqueous, lipids, and mucin, the change in lipid production during pregnancy may mean your eyes are drying out faster because the tear film is not receiving the lipids it needs for strength.
Oil glands in the face and eyelids begin to block the production of lipids and oils from lubricating the eyelids, even when you’re blinking to rewet the eye. The same oil glands are responsible for many women experiencing acne during pregnancy.
If dry eye is experienced during pregnancy, it usually starts at the end of the first trimester and can continue through the pregnancy and beyond if the woman nurses her baby. Dry eye is not the only eye change happening during particularly hormonal times. The changes are subtle, but can show up with more eye irritation, burning, itchiness, light sensitivity, or even pain while wearing contact lenses. If the tear film is breaking down, there is less protection between the surface of the eye (cornea) and the contact lens, so the contacts can have an abrasive effect against the eyes.
Using over-the-counter rewetting or lubricating eye drops without preservatives is a safe course of treatment for dry eye before, during, and after pregnancy, including while nursing. If using prescription eye drops, be sure to check with your physician or OB/GYN to make sure there is no problem using them during this time.
Interestingly, dry eye can also include excessive tears or watery eyes. That’s because the tear film is not standing up as it should so the ducts around the eyes start putting out more tears to soothe any irritation. This results in too many tears and those annoying, watery eyes!
The medical director of the Miller Children’s Hospital of Long Beach and the Memorial Care Center for Women at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Michael P. Nageotte, MD, said, “There’s no specific known reason for drier eyes in pregnancy. There is absolutely no risk with topical drops to patients who have symptomatic dryness of their eyes.” Likely, you can blame those hormones.
As always, if you have any concerns about your health, your eyes, or the health of your baby, consult your physician. Let us know any questions you have in the comments below!
Dr. Jenna Zigler
Other Dry Eye articles by Dr. Zigler: 4 Tips to Stop Waking Up With Dry, Painful Eyes; Which Antidepressants Cause Dry Eye; Fish Oil for Fighting Dry Eye Inflammation; and What Not To Eat If You Have Dry Eye