Vision risks during pregnancy

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Inge Loubser, a senior optometrist at Mellins i-Style and expert for BabyYumYum, highlights vision risks and eye care during pregnancy.

Diabetes during pregnancy

High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the eye’s retina and cause them to bleed or leak fluid. The risk of this condition, called diabetic retinopathy, increases during pregnancy and is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. The body produces a lot of hormones during pregnancy and can occasionally cause insulin resistance where the body can’t produce enough insulin to regulate sugar.

If pregnant women experience blurred vision or excessive thirst, they should be tested for diabetes. A temporary form of diabetes (gestational diabetes) can occur during pregnancy and this may also lead to blurred vision. If you are diabetic, frequent eye check-ups during pregnancy are necessary. This will detect any changes that might occur and may be treated right away to prevent blindness.

Additional areas of the eye that could be damaged by diabetes:

  • Retina – the tissue that lines the inside of the eye and converts incoming light to a visual “message” via the optic nerve to the brain.
  • Lens – the lens of the eye is transparent and sits behind the iris (coloured part of the eye). It helps to focus light on the retina.
  • Vitreous fluid – the transparent, colourless mass that fills the space between the lens and retina.
  • Optic nerve – it connects the eye to the brain and carries visual messages from the retina to your brain and from your brain to the eye muscles.

Therefore, if you have diabetes and are planning to get pregnant, you should have a comprehensive eye examination with your optometrist during the first trimester and discuss diabetic retinal problems. If you start to develop diabetes during pregnancy, there is not an increased risk of retinal problems, unless your diabetes continues after your pregnancy.

Preeclampsia and your vision

Pregnant women with high blood pressure can be at risk of preeclampsia, a serious condition that can put both the mother and baby at risk. In addition to high blood pressure, if pregnant women experience any blurred vision, sensitivity to bright light or loss of vision, they should consult their doctor immediately.

Glaucoma and pregnancy

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve and usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. Pressure in the eye is increased by the extra fluid and consequently damages the optic nerve. In general, your eye pressure is, however, lowered during pregnancy as a result of the body’s hormonal changes. This may be beneficial for women with glaucoma.

Medication for glaucoma may affect your unborn baby, but it may be possible to lower your glaucoma medication dosage thereby lowering your baby’s exposure to medicine – but first discuss this with your ophthalmologist. There is, however, very little information available about the use of eye drops for glaucoma during pregnancy.

The risk of most medications can’t be excluded. There is even a risk while breastfeeding, so it is important to see your ophthalmologist for a treatment plan as soon as you know that you are pregnant or if you are trying to get pregnant.