Dry Eyes During Your Pregnancy

Burning, scratchy eyes with excessive tearing is a tell-tale sign of dry eyes or dry eye syndrome. Dry eye syndrome is a condition caused by a lack of moisture in the eyes, and it often shows up at times of hormonal change, such as during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Dry eye syndrome related to pregnancy usually worsens at the end of the first trimester due to massive hormonal changes. Dryness may seem to come and go throughout the day and can be constant for some women.

Doctor and pregnant woman looking at digital tablet
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Hormones Can Affect Tears

Hormone changes can also affect the quality of the tears. The same hormones that cause an increase in acne while pregnant can also cause the meibomian glands or lipid/oil glands to change during pregnancy. The meibomian glands line the upper and lower eyelid margins. One job of the meibomian glands is to secrete oil in the tears to prevent tear film evaporation. You may have a lot of tears, but they evaporate much faster than normal. This can create an unstable tear film and dry eyes.

Dry eyes may continue throughout your pregnancy and can even persist for several months after you deliver. Mothers who choose to breastfeed their infants may continue to experience some dry eye symptoms due to some of the same type of hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. Symptoms may persist up to a couple of months after lactation stops.

Comfort for Dry Eyes

If you are pregnant and experiencing the effects of dry eye syndrome, you may want to schedule a visit with your eye doctor. Your eye doctor will be able to tell you the many ways to treat dry eye syndrome and which ones are safest during pregnancy.

  • Artificial tears: Artificial tears can be used to lessen the discomfort caused by dry eyes and are safe to use while pregnant or nursing. Artificial tears are available in many different types. One type that may be more helpful is one that replaces part of the lipid layer in the tears. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you choose appropriate contact lens rewetting eye drops.
  • Warm compresses: Warm compresses on the eyes can open up and stimulate the meibomian glands. This brings blood flow to the area and restores the glands to normal.
  • Punctal occlusion: If you visit your eye doctor with complaints of dry eyes, you will likely be informed about "plugging your tear ducts." Punctal occlusion is a painless procedure in which the puncta (small openings in the corners of the eyes through which tears drain) are blocked. Blocking the puncta increases the number of tears available to bathe the front part of the eye by decreasing the number of tears that drain away from the eye. Instead of plugging the gland that produces tears, punctal occlusion plugs the tear drainage pipe. (Think of plugging the drain in the kitchen sink—the faucet still runs.) This procedure is safe for pregnant patients.
4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yenerel NM, Küçümen RB. Pregnancy and the Eye. Turk J Ophthalmol. 2015;45(5):213–219. doi: 10.4274/tjo.43815

  2. Eom Y, Na KS, Cho KJ, et al. Distribution and Characteristics of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Subtypes: A Multicenter Study in South Korea. Korean J Ophthalmol. 2019;33(3):205–213. doi: 10.3341/kjo.2018.0104

  3. American Optometric Association. "Dry Eye," 2006-09.

  4. Mayo Clinic, "Punctal plugs"

Additional Reading
  • Murkoff, Heidi and Sharon Mazel. What to Expect ​When You're Expecting, 4th Edition. Workman Publishing, 2008. Pp 242-243.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.