If the eyes do not produce enough tears or cannot maintain a healthy moisture layer, a person may have dry eye syndrome. People may experience dry eyes during pregnancy due to fluctuating hormone levels.

The overall rate of dry eyes is higher during pregnancy. Doctors do not fully understand what causes this phenomenon, but hormonal shifts may make it more difficult for the eyes to produce enough tears. Dry eyes in pregnancy can be uncomfortable, but several treatments can help.

This article discusses the symptoms and causes of dry eyes in pregnancy. It also explains the home remedies and medical treatments that people can use to manage this condition.

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An individual may notice the following dry eye symptoms:

  • eyes that feel dry, itchy, or uncomfortable
  • feeling the need to blink frequently
  • sensitivity to light
  • watery eyes
  • dried mucus or stringy fluid in the corners of the eyes
  • red eyes
  • trouble putting in or taking out contact lenses, in those who wear them
  • changes in vision
  • a sensation of the eyes feeling tired or droopy
  • feeling as though something is in the eyes

Researchers do not yet fully understand why pregnant people commonly experience dry eyes, but several studies support this finding. For example, a 2019 study of 134 pregnant people in Nigeria found that dry eyes peaked in the third trimester, with the lowest rates at 6 weeks postpartum.

Females are more likely than males to have dry eyes, especially when hormonal changes occur, such as during pregnancy or menopause or when taking some forms of birth control.

Males have higher levels of hormones called androgens, which include testosterone. These hormones may protect them from dry eyes because they support tear production from the lacrimal glands. Although females also have these sex hormones, their levels are lower, which might explain why they have higher rates of dry eyes than males.

Androgens alone cannot explain dry eyes during pregnancy, as these hormones usually increase during pregnancy. For example, testosterone levels rise by about 70% during pregnancy.

However, the levels of estradiol — a hormone present in higher levels in most females — also increase with pregnancy. Estradiol may counteract the protective effects of androgens by suppressing genes that help with tear production. This action might explain why more people experience dry eyes as their pregnancy progresses.

Aside from hormone fluctuations, various other health conditions and lifestyle factors can cause dry eyes. People should, therefore, see a doctor for an evaluation. Other potential causes of dry eyes include:

People may find that skin issues such as rosacea and eczema cause dry eyes. These skin conditions may worsen during pregnancy and further compound the problem of hormone-associated dry eyes.

Some home remedies and lifestyle adjustments may help ease symptoms of dry eyes. People can try:

  • drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration
  • using a humidifier to prevent the air from becoming too dry
  • applying over-the-counter artificial tears
  • taking a fatty acid supplement, such as fish oil or an omega-3 supplement
  • wearing sunglasses outside to minimize sun damage to the eyes
  • trying warm compresses or eyelid massage
  • avoiding fans or heaters near the face, which can further dry the eyes

People should also avoid using potential irritants, such as certain lotions and creams, around the eyes. If an individual uses several products, they can try eliminating one product at a time and logging their symptoms. For example, a person might find that their eyes only become dry when using a specific brand of mascara.

Doctors must determine the cause of dry eyes before they can treat them. If someone has an underlying illness, such as an autoimmune disease, a doctor may refer them to a specialist while offering prescription eye drops or other treatments.

Medical treatment options include:

  • Prescription drops: A doctor might prescribe prescription-strength artificial tears or eye drops to reduce inflammation.
  • Tear plugs: A doctor can fit removable tear plugs into the tear ducts, which help the tears remain in the eyes for longer.
  • Steroids: Steroids can help treat some types of eye inflammation. A doctor may recommend using steroid creams on the eyelids or trying steroid eye drops.
  • Moisture goggles: Wearing moisture goggles at night can help keep the eyes lubricated. A doctor may recommend using the goggles alongside eye drops or ointments.
  • Antibiotics: Some antibiotics have anti-inflammatory properties and may help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. However, these treatments may not be suitable during pregnancy.
  • Surgery: A doctor may recommend surgery if other treatments do not alleviate the symptoms. One option is to seal the tear ducts permanently, keeping tears in the eyes for longer. Another procedure, called tarsorrhaphy, sews parts of the upper and lower eyelids together to narrow the eye opening and reduce dryness. Skin grafts may also help.

For most people, dry eyes are a minor annoyance rather than a serious medical condition. People who notice dry eyes for the first time during pregnancy may find that their symptoms improve after delivery.

There is a lack of extensive research on how dry eyes may progress if someone does not treat the condition. For many people, dry eyes become a chronic condition that may improve or worsen at times. With home treatment, symptoms may improve. When they do not, a person may need more intensive medical care.

Pregnant people should talk with a doctor before trying home remedies, as some options may not be safe during pregnancy.

The hormone fluctuations that people experience during pregnancy can worsen dry eyes. Although seldom a serious condition, individuals may find dry eyes unpleasant and have difficulty with everyday tasks because of pain and irritation.

A range of treatments can help ease dry eye symptoms. However, pregnant people should exercise caution when using both prescription and over-the-counter medications for dry eyes. A doctor, optometrist, or ophthalmologist can advise pregnant individuals on which treatments are most suitable.