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6 Common Eye Infections In Pregnancy: Symptoms, Treatment, And Care

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Eye infections can show up any time in pregnant women, just as they may show up in non-pregnant women. However, pregnant women may be susceptible to infections in general because of the changes in hormone levels and immune system functioning (1). In this MomJunction post, we discuss the possible eye infections that you may get during pregnancy, what causes them, and how to treat them.

We also discuss a few eye-related problems that women may have to deal with when they are pregnant. 

Common Eye Infections And Problems During Pregnancy

Here, we talk about the common eye infections you may get while pregnant. The doctor can diagnose the infection based on the signs and symptoms you experience.

1. Pink eye/ Conjunctivitis

It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin membrane covering the white surface of the eye. It might make the eyes severely red and can spread quickly. This common condition is likely to go away within a week. It is primarily caused by a bacteria or virus or may develop from allergies, foreign particles, contact lenses, systemic infections, or chemicals (2).

Symptoms include 

  • Redness in the eye
  • Itching and burning sensation
  • Swelling
  • Pain or irritation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Feels like there is some particle in the eye
  • Discharge that may prevent your eye from opening when you wake up from sleep

Treatment and care 

  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis and antihistamine drops for allergies.
  • Keep cleaning your eyelids using a clean, wet cloth.
  • Apply cold or warm compresses for pain relief.
  • Use saline eye drops (also known as artificial tears) as they soothe the eye. They can also flush out any particle stuck in the eye.

2. Keratitis

It is an inflammation of the cornea, a clear layer that covers the pupil and iris. It is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus, or may develop from regular use of contact lens, humid climates, or corticosteroid eye drops (if you have been using for another eye condition) (3).

Symptoms include

  • Redness and swelling of the eye
  • Pain or discomfort in the eye
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Discomfort when opening and closing the eyelids
  • Sensation of something stuck in the eye

Treatment and care

  • Prescription oral medications and eye drops that could be antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral depending on the cause.
  • The doctor may also suggest artificial tears for lubrication.

3. Uveitis

It is an inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye that transports blood to your retina. It is most likely caused by a virus (such as herpes) and may develop from eye injuries or autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Loss of vision could be a complication of severe uveitis (4).

Symptoms include

  • Pain and redness in the eye
  • Small floaters in your vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision

Treatment and care

  • Wearing dark glasses
  • Your doctor may suggest prescription eye drops with anti-inflammatory medications
  • Ocular anti-inflammatory injections are also prescribed in some case

Apart from the above eye infections, the many changes in pregnancy may also lead to a few eye problems, which we discuss next.

4. Dry eyes

This usually happens due to lack of enough moisture in the eye, but could also develop due to hormonal changes, which could affect the meibomian glands that line the eyelids and keep the tears oily (5). In some cases, dryness may be constant, and for some, it is likely to come and go. In this condition, the tear film that protects the eyes becomes thinner and becomes prone to frequent drying.

Also, the lacrimal glands produce lesser lubricating fluid, worsening the symptoms. Dryness is further aggravated by dehydration, which may happen from nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (6).

Symptoms include 

  • Red and sore eyes
  • Sticky eyelids
  • Blurred vision when you blink your eyes
  • Feeling of grit in your eyes

Treatment and care 

  • Your doctor might prescribe over-the-counter medications, artificial tears, or ointments.
  • Create a humid atmosphere at home and work by keeping some plants or using a humidifier.
  • Massaging the eyelids by rolling your fingertips over them could stimulate tears.
  • Clean your eyes by dabbing the eyelids with cotton plugs soaked in lukewarm water.
  • Restrict computer work, television, or mobile time, and get enough sleep.
  • Applying warm compress could stimulate and open the oil glands, which prevent the moist layer from becoming dry.
  • Punctual occlusion is performed in severe cases, where the doctor will block the tear ducts.

5. Itchy eyes (blurry eyes) 

Allergies are the primary cause of itchy eyes. Water retention during pregnancy may also affect the thickness of the cornea, thereby weakening the vision (7). Cholestasis of pregnancy, where there is an obstruction of bile flow from the liver, may also have itchy eyes as one of its symptoms (8).

Treatment and care 

  • Your doctor might prescribe over-the-counter medications such as Diphenhydramine or Chlorpheniramine (9).
  • Limit the use of contact lenses and do not wear them during the night.

6. Puffy or swollen eyes

Along with the swelling of the face and extremities, your eyelids might also become puffy or swollen due to water retention (10). Although this is not likely to be a serious side effect, you may feel uncomfortable.

Treatment and care 

  • Address water retention by having a healthy, low-sodium diet and improving water intake.
  • Meditation and regular exercises could help.
  • Get enough sleep.

Your doctor will examine the eye and may send a tissue or fluid sample for the test. Based on the observations, you may have to take medication, eye drops, or an ointment. Your doctor may also suggest some home care measures that might provide relief.

8 Tips To Follow When Having Eye Infections

Following good hygienic practices might limit your chances of exposure to other factors that may cause or aggravate different eye problems.

  1. Wash your hands: Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water before touching your face or eyes. Clean your hands after coming from outdoors. Touching or rubbing your eyes with unclean hands could make an eye infection worse (11).
  1. Keep your eyes clean: Splash cold water in your eyes to remove any foreign particles. This might also soothe the blood vessels. Do not over rub your eyes.
  1. Protect your eyes: UV rays from the sun are harmful and could damage the lens and retina of the eye. Wearing a pair of good sunglasses might help. They protect your eyes from both dust and UV radiation (12).
  1. Be cautious with makeup: Makeup might aggravate bacteria and make the infections worse. Do not share cosmetics, such as lipsticks and makeup sponges or brushes, as you could get infection from someone else. Remove makeup before going to bed. Check for the expiry dates and seals. Do not use makeup if you are prone to eye allergies and infections (13).
  1. Keep your stress levels low: Stress due to poor sleep, overworking, and diet could affect the immune system, which might increase your risk of contracting eye infections.
  1. Eyewear care: Keep your spectacles and contact lenses tidy, and do not share the cleaning wipes. Follow hygiene before and after handling them.
  1. Warm compress: It could help soothe the blood vessels, heal inflammation, and provide relief from pain and discomfort in the eye. Hold a damp cloth, soaked in warm water, against the eye for some time.
  1. Avoid sharing things: Do not share towels, pillows, linens, or washcloths. Maintain good hygiene and wash them regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is pink eye dangerous during pregnancy? 

Pink eye might not be a dangerous condition, but it is highly contagious. Therefore, take preventive measures to ensure you do not contract the infection from someone who has it.

2. Can sore eyes affect pregnancy?

There are no studies that state about sore eyes, causing any pregnancy complications. In general, any condition that is ignored, and not managed in time may lead to serious complications.

3. Can I use antibiotic eyedrops while pregnant?

Erythromycin, ophthalmic gentamicin, ophthalmic tobramycin, and polymyxin B are considered safe during pregnancy (10). However, you can use them only if the doctor prescribes them for an eye infection.

Most eye infections are likely to subside on their own. If they persist beyond one week, consult an eye care specialist. When you pay attention to it in time, you could avoid the infection from getting worse.

References:

1. Athena P. Kourtis et al.; Pregnancy and Infection; N Engl J Med (2015)
2. Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat; CDC (2019)
3. Keratitis; Harvard Health Publishing (2018)
4. Uveitis; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (2018)
5. Mark B. Abelson and Lisa Lines; Hormones in Dry-Eye: A Delicate Balance; Review of Ophthalmology
6. Nursal Melda Yenerel and Raciha Beril Küçümen; Pregnancy and the Eye; Turkish Journal of Ophthalmology (2015)
7. Kaur G et al.; Pregnancy Induced Ocular Changes and Associated Risk of Ocular Medications; Nepal Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2015)
8. Cholestasis of Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
9. Pregnancy Resources; UConn Health Women’s Center
10. Cara Terreri; Swelling in the Third Trimester: What’s Normal, When to Worry, What to Do; Lamaze International
11. Show Me the Science – Why Wash Your Hands; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018)
12. Eye Care; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (2017)
13. Old Makeup Can Cause Serious Eye Infections; University of Rochester Medical Center
14. Sushil Chawla et al.; Ophthalmic considerations in pregnancy; Medical Journal, Armed Forces India (2013)