What causes it, and how to make it better.
As I sit in front of my computer to type this, I find myself edging closer and closer to the monitor, squinting through my glasses to focus on the letters streaking across the white plane before me. I've always had subpar vision—I started wearing glasses when I was 10 years old, but I've never had to struggle through the haze in my eyes as I do now. With two weeks left to go in my pregnancy, my vision is worse than ever.
I'm not alone. Up to 15% of women notice their vision blurring as early as 10 weeks into their pregnancy. The culprit? Those pesky pregnancy hormones.
Not only do they throw off your emotions, but you're also faced with changes in many of your bodily functions. From nausea and vomiting, food cravings, newfound clumsiness and lack of depth perception to your aching joints and fuzzy eyesight, hormones can cause a number of new problems.
What causes vision changes during pregnancy?
Hormones are chemicals that send messages to control different tissues throughout the body to trigger various processes in an organism. There's an enormous variety of them, each with its own function.
During pregnancy, a woman's ovaries work overtime to increase levels of sex hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. The primary female sex hormone, estrogen, affects everything from bone formation and lung function to enhancing and developing the hormone-producing glands in both mom and baby.
Its trusty sidekick progesterone, the main pregnancy hormone, aids in the growth and preparation of breasts for lactation, strengthening the uterine lining, and promoting the healthy operation of the placenta—the primary support system of the developing fetus. These chemicals enter the bloodstream and bind to receptors within various organ systems in the body, causing many physiological changes.
This includes not only the reproductive organs but also the central nervous system and, you guessed it, the eyes. With an influx of hormones, fluid buildup and increased pressure within the eyeball, it can lead to hazy vision.
As the rest of your body swells, so does the cornea, which is the transparent lens that covers the iris (the colorful part of your eye), the pupil (that abyss in the middle of your eye), and the anterior chamber (the liquid separating the iris and cornea). The cornea aids in bending light. As corneas thicken, they begin to curve, and the way they bend visual images into the eye changes. This is why doctors may recommend contact lens wearers switch to glasses during pregnancy, as the curvature makes it so that their lenses no longer fit around their eyeballs properly.
Does pregnancy cause dry eyes?
You may find that your eyes have turned into dry desert wastelands during your pregnancy. This is because increasing hormones cause a decrease in tear production as they disrupt cell function in the lacrimal glands of the eyes. This zaps away much-needed lubrication, also contributing to the haziness and irritation.
Are migraines in pregnancy related to vision changes?
Migraines are another cause of visual suffering in pregnancy, often erupting in pregnancy's final throes. As stress and discomfort build in those final weeks, the stress hormone cortisol, along with the sex hormones, surge, elevating the pressure in the brain and other parts of the body. The resulting migraines can sometimes cause visual disturbances such as flashing lights, zigzag lines, blind spots or temporary loss of vision.
Of note, it is really important to report any of these symptoms to your healthcare provider right away, as they could also be caused by a serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment (such as preeclampsia or a blood clot). See below for more.
Vision changes and preeclampsia
Blurred vision, sensitivity to light, flashing lights, spots, floaters, double vision and temporary blindness may all be symptoms of preeclampsia, a high blood pressure condition that affects 3-5% of all pregnancies. The Preeclampsia Foundation says these changes may be caused by irritation of the central nervous system or brain swelling as blood pressure inflates the body like helium in a balloon. Thankfully, eye damage is usually limited. Upon resolving high blood pressure, vision typically returns to normal.
Vision changes and gestational diabetes
Similarly, people with diabetes (chronic or gestational) are also susceptible to vision changes in pregnancy. Those with diabetes—a condition where the pancreas is unable to properly secrete the hormone insulin to control blood sugar levels in the body—are at risk of diabetic retinopathy.
High blood sugar levels in the blood damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina, the innermost layer of the eye's shell that translates light into messages for your brain to interpret. This damage results in abnormal growth of new blood vessels along the retina, which sometimes leads to bleeding or fluid leakage into the retina, causing blurred vision and sometimes significant permanent vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy doesn't only affect women with a previous history of diabetes. About 2% of women develop gestational diabetes when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet extra needs in pregnancy. Blood sugar returns to normal after birth in about 95% of cases, but are at higher risk of developing Type II diabetes later in life.
Any type of diabetic should have at least one thorough eye exam during pregnancy.
How can I treat my vision changes during pregnancy?
Although a woman's vision deteriorates in numerous ways over the forty weeks of her pregnancy, healthcare providers are unlikely to take any steps to fix vision issues unless they are severe. Within a few months of giving birth or halting breastfeeding, hormones stabilize and vision returns to normal. Providers advise that corrective lens prescriptions should not be replaced until after pregnancy since vision changes are usually temporary.
Since medical treatment is limited, a few natural methods can aid in improving these impairments, including:
- Take occasional breaks from your computer screen.
- Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Taking supplements to help relieve symptoms, promote retinal function, reduce eye inflammation, and sharpen visual acuity, or clarity.
While personal measures to improve these nuisances might be hit and miss, they teach us patience—a quality I've learned through my firstborn is much needed for when these mini versions of ourselves make their appearances and require our constant time and attention. And, of course, our moans and groans will dissolve into laughter and gentle coos, and it will all be worth it in the end.
But until then, I can't wait to get this baby out of me so that I can see again.