According to a new survey conducted by Prevent Blindness, preventblindness.org, a national nonprofit, women are actually at great risk for developing permanent vision loss than men. To address this, Prevent Blindness has launched a web-based educational campaign called See Jane See – Women’s Healthy Eyes Now. The program provides free resources and downloadable tip sheets that cover a wide range of topics related to women’s eye health and safety.
Memphis Parent magazine spoke to Dr. Michael Weinberg, an optometrist at Eclectic Eye, to learn more about women’s vision care, particularly during pregnancy.
Memphis Parent: What are some vision changes expectant mothers need to be aware of during pregnancy?Dr. Michael Weinberg: Although hormone levels fluctuate during pregnancy and while breast-feeding can cause shifts in vision, it has been my experience that these physiological changes are rarely responsible for significant visual changes.
Most women of childbearing age are still subject to vision changes that may occur independent of the pregnancy. However, we frequently see changes in tear production, which can result in mild to moderate dry eye, as well as an increase in allergy symptoms and contact lens sensitivity.
In regard to expectant mothers wearing contact lenses, I do caution them to not wear lenses as much, and to definitely not to sleep in them. Because of increased dryness and sensitivity during pregnancy, the risks of a contact lens-related ulcer or keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) is higher. Treating it requires antibiotics or steroids that can be harmful to a developing fetus. Reduced contact lens wear reduces the exposure to such risks. I strongly recommend using glasses and prescription sunglasses during this time.
How can dry eyes and puffy eyelids be treated? Dry eye can be managed safely while pregnant with the constant use of non-preserved artificial tears. Also, punctal plugs can be helpful when trying to manage dry eye. These are small devices inserted into tear ducts in the lids. It is a very quick, easy, and comfortable procedure that can be completed in-office.
Puffy lids are best treated with cold compresses two to three times a day. However, if the puffiness occurs along with a sudden swelling of the face, hands and/or feet, a visit to the OB/GYN is best.
What eye symptoms during pregnancy are major causes for concern? Vision changes like a temporary loss of vision, light sensitivity, doubled or blurred vision, and auras (visualized sensation of lights or flashes), as these can be signs of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition in pregnancy, which is characterized by high blood pressure, sometimes with fluid retention and the presence of protein in urine. While there are several things that can cause these visual signs, their appearance during pregnancy warrants an immediate visit to the OB/GYN.
What about eye care when pregnant women have the following conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or migraine headaches? Control and prevention are the best ways to care for the eyes with these conditions. I recommend working closely with your medical team to determine the proper protocols, and how to best reduce exposure to any medications during the pregnancy. If ocular medications are required for glaucoma, care should be used to minimize exposure to the fetus. A technique called punctal occlusion can reduce systemic exposure of the medication. Punctal occlusion consists of applying gentle pressure to the inside corner of the lids with a finger during instillation of the drops, which then keeps the drop from draining into the throat.
Do you need to worry about refractive changes that occur during pregnancy? I still hear people say pregnant women should not have an eye exam or get glasses during pregnancy because their vision might change. I completely disagree. We always want everyone to see as clearly as they can to be safe when driving, especially with a baby onboard. Routine eye care is still recommended during pregnancy, and we want to make sure vision changes are not related to health issues.