Conjunctivitis can cause irritation and discomfort but is not typically harmful during pregnancy. A person can ordinarily treat conjunctivitis safely while pregnant.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, occurs when the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the whites of the eyes and the inner eyelids, becomes inflamed. Causes include allergies and infectious viruses and bacteria.

Pregnant people may have a higher risk of developing infections, such as infective conjunctivitis. The condition is common and usually easy to treat.

This article discusses conjunctivitis during pregnancy, including its symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention.

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Doctors consider conjunctivitis in pregnant people to be a minor ailment that does not pose a significant risk to the pregnant person or fetus.

Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition in which the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. It does not typically cause serious health complications and is often easily treatable.

Conjunctivitis may be infective, caused by viruses or bacteria, or allergic, occurring in response to an allergen. Safe treatments are available for each type of conjunctivitis during pregnancy.

Conjunctivitis often causes symptoms in both eyes, which can include:

Common causes of conjunctivitis include:

  • Viruses: Viral infection is the most common cause of conjunctivitis. Around 80% of the time, people with acute conjunctivitis have a viral type. Adenoviruses cause viral conjunctivitis 65% to 90% of the time.
  • Bacteria: Direct contact with certain types of bacteria may cause bacterial conjunctivitis. These include Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenza, and rarely, Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
  • Allergies: An immune response to an allergen, such as pollen, dust mites, or eye drops, can cause allergic conjunctivitis. This type is not contagious.

People may be more likely to develop infections, including infectious conjunctivitis, while pregnant. This is due to a shift in their immune response which helps prevent the body from rejecting the fetus.

Immunological changes during pregnancy may also cause changes in the production and composition of tear film, a fluid membrane that covers the eyes and prevents dryness. This may increase a person’s risk of conjunctivitis.

The treatments for conjunctivitis can depend on its cause. Doctors may evaluate people on a case-by-case basis and help them determine the safest and most effective treatment methods.

Doctors typically advise nonpharmacological treatment in pregnant people with conjunctivitis to minimize the potential risks of exposing the fetus to medications.

Many times, a person’s immune system can clear conjunctivitis from the body without treatment. Nonpharmacological treatment does not cure conjunctivitis but may help a person manage the symptoms.

A person may want to relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis by:

  • washing the eyelids gently with clean water and clean cotton pads
  • placing a cool compress, such as a clean, wet washcloth, over the eyes
  • avoiding the use of contact lenses
  • avoiding rubbing the eyes
  • avoiding eye makeup

If conservative management is not successful, a person may require medication.

There is no evidence to suggest that common eye medications are unsafe during pregnancy. However, doctors will usually apply careful consideration when prescribing medication to pregnant people and will discuss any potential risks with them.

The treatments for different types of conjunctivitis include:

  • Viral infection: There is no specific treatment for viral conjunctivitis. The body usually fights the virus without assistance and typically clears the infection within 7 to 14 days.
  • Bacterial infection: The body may clear conjunctivitis from bacterial infection without treatment within 2 to 5 days. If the condition does not improve on its own, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic believed to be safe while pregnant, such as chloramphenicol eye drops.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Pregnant people with allergic conjunctivitis should avoid the allergen. Experts believe some antihistamines to be safe during pregnancy, including cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin). These could help alleviate symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person can help prevent conjunctivitis by:

  • washing their hands often with soap and water
  • avoiding touching the eyes
  • avoiding sharing items, such as washcloths, pillowcases, eyewear, and eye drops with others
  • following hygiene instructions for contact lenses

To prevent allergic conjunctivitis, a person should avoid allergens when possible.

It may be helpful to avoid environments that can cause eye irritation, such as smoky atmospheres, and ensure rooms are clean and well-ventilated.

A person with conjunctivitis should contact a doctor if:

  • their symptoms have not cleared within 7 days
  • they wear contact lenses and have spots on their eyelids alongside conjunctivitis symptoms, which could indicate an allergy to the lenses

A person should seek urgent medical care if they have the following symptoms, which may indicate a more severe eye problem:

This section answers some frequently asked questions about conjunctivitis during pregnancy.

Can I put eye drops in my eyes while pregnant?

A person should always consult a doctor before using a medication while pregnant.

Experts believe some eye drops, such as lubricating artificial tears, to be safe for use during pregnancy, while others may increase the risks of complications.

What are some safe antibiotic eye drops to use in pregnancy?

Experts consider chloramphenicol antibiotic eye drops safe for use during pregnancy. Erythromycin and polymyxin B eye drops are likely safe also.

How to tell the difference between pink eye and conjunctivitis?

Pink eye and conjunctivitis are different names for the same condition, an inflammation of the conjunctiva.

Conjunctivitis is not typically harmful during pregnancy. The condition causes irritation and discomfort in the eyes but does not usually lead to health complications.

A pregnant person can usually treat conjunctivitis symptoms at home without medication. If the conjunctivitis does not improve, a doctor may prescribe medication, depending on the cause of the condition.

A person should inform a doctor of their pregnancy when seeking treatment for conjunctivitis. A doctor may have to adjust their prescription to minimize risks to the fetus.