5 Reasons Your Vision is Changing as a Parent And What to Do About It
Things not as clear as they used to be? Here are five surprising insights about eye health in the parenthood years, and advice from experts on navigating the most common problems.
Eyesight is an easy thing for busy parents to neglect, but vision changes do happen in your 30s and beyond. Momhood even plays a role. In pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause blurry eyesight. And many parents find themselves dealing with dry eyes and digital strain as they sacrifice sleep and juggle remote work and Zoom school, says Mina Massaro-Giordano, M.D., professor of clinical ophthalmology at Penn Medicine. Loss of near vision can also kick in at this age.
Eye issues often warrant a doctor's appointment, yet visits to ophthalmologists plummeted by approximately 80 percent at the start of the pandemic, according to JAMA Ophthalmology.
If you've been using over-the-counter artificial tears as a temporary fix for discomfort, see your doctor if you "still experience pain or blurry vision," advises Soroosh Behshad, M.D., chief of ophthalmology at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Emory Eye Center, in Atlanta. And if you're wondering more about day-to-day strain, use this guide to focus on some typical culprits.
Parenthood Can Make Your Eyes Hurt
But don't worry; the issues are easy to troubleshoot.
Your vision is worsening.
It's inevitable. In your late 30s or early 40s, your eyes' lenses get stiffer, which makes it harder for them to change shape quickly when you go from looking at something far away to something up close. This strain throughout the day can make your eyes feel sore or tired.
The fix: See your ophthalmologist once a year. "An eye doctor can dilate your eyes to check if they're straining and if you might benefit from a prescription for computer glasses," Dr. Massaro-Giordano advises. Some cheapo reading glasses can also help. Choose a pair with the lowest correction.
Your screen time is off the charts.
Hunching over a computer isn't just bad for your back. "You blink less when you stare at a screen, and blinking lubricates your eyes," says Alice Lorch, M.D., a comprehensive ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, in Boston. Nearly 16 million Americans have dry eye, according to the National Eye Institute. It's not just uncomfortable; dryness ups your risk of infection and can make tasks like driving harder. Plus, people with dry eye report lower productivity than those with lesser symptoms, said a study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology.
The fix: Step away from your work (or phone) for 10 minutes every hour, Dr. Lorch says. To lubricate your eyes, all of our experts suggest using preservative-free drops as many times as you need to throughout the day. (Preservatives can damage cells and make the problem worse over time.) Dr. Massaro-Giordano also says your computer should be no higher than eye level. "Looking up opens the lid and exposes more of the eyeball to the environment, causing dryness."
Another reason to get more rest: "There's less fluid evaporation when your eyelids are closed," Dr. Massaro-Giordano explains, which is why dry eye tends to be worse when you skimp on sleep.
The fix: Keep those eye drops on your nightstand so you can use them during the night if you wake up, Dr. Massar-Giordano says. And if you wear contacts, always take them out before bed. Lenses can interfere with the way tears are distributed across the cornea and can limit the eye's access to oxygen, both of which make dry eye worse, Dr. Lorch says. You could also develop an infection from wearing them for too long.
Your baby’s teeny (but sharp!) nails can do damage.
Baby-induced eye injuries are more common than you think, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says, and those sweet little hands pack some power. "Fingernails are like little knives," she says. "They can injure the cornea." If a scratch doesn't heal correctly, it can leave long-term pain at the scene of the crime.
The fix: Apply cold preservative-free drops immediately, and keep track of your symptoms. "If the lid swells or you become more sensitive to light, see an ophthalmologist," Dr. Massaro-Giordano says, "especially if things don't get better within a day." Oh, and don't forget to trim those claws.
You could develop an allergy.
Itchy eyes might not be from pollen floating in the air but from new soap, laundry detergent, or eye makeup. "Your eyes might look okay from the outside, but a doctor could see little bumps under the lids from a low-level allergy caused by any of these products," Dr. Lorch says.
The fix: Remove your makeup every single night. Dr. Lorch says even using baby wash on your face and eyes works wonders. Still irritated? Take a break from any suspected allergens for two weeks, and then slowly reintroduce each one back into your routine until you've identified the cause.
Blue-Light Glasses May Offer Some Relief
Blue light "comes from the sun, indoor lighting, and screens, and can prevent you from producing the sleep hormone melatonin," says Melissa Contreras, O.D., assistant professor of optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University, in Fullerton, California. Like coffee, it's clutch in the morning for energizing but less than ideal at night. Blue-light glasses filter out this wavelength, potentially limiting sleep-disrupting effects.
When to wear them:
When you're on a screen and at the end of the day, Dr. Contreras says. But don't wear them outside; they don't offer UV protection.
What to look for:
Not a lot of research exists yet on how beneficial blue-light glasses are or how much they should filter out, but most lenses available block about 40 percent. Glasses by Felix Gray (prescription, nonprescription, and readers) filter 50 percent of all blue light. You might also consider a screen protector, like one from EyeJust.
Pregnancy Might Trip Up Your Vision
You can blame fluid retention. It puts pressure on the cornea and lens, which changes their shape and can lead to a fuzzy view starting at the second trimester, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Baylor University Medical Center, in Dallas. Each pregnancy is different, so this can happen with your second or third, even if it didn't with your first. But it's temporary and should clear up within nine months postpartum. Just mention any big shifts to your doctor to rule out gestational diabetes or hypertension.
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This Could Be Your Year To Get Lasik
It's the most popular type of refractive eye surgery—refractive, as in the way the light bends in your eye. During the procedure, a surgeon uses a laser to reshape the cornea, which corrects vision. LASIK is a more common treatment for those who are nearsighted and have astigmatism. (Your doctor can also discuss a technique called monovision, which addresses farsightedness and nearsightedness.) The pandemic may even have inspired a LASIK boom: "More people want to be free from glasses since wearing a mask causes lenses to fog up," Dr. Soroosh Behshad says. "It's also appealing to parents who wake up in the middle of the night unable to see or have kids who grab at their glasses." Here's what to expect.
To be a good candidate, you should have had the same prescription for the past year or two. You'll want to save up for it: Insurance typically doesn't cover the procedure, which runs around $2,000 to $3,000 per eye, but you can likely use an HSA or an FSA to help with the cost.
You will be awake, but your eyes will be numb, and you shouldn't experience any pain. The actual surgery takes only a few minutes. The rest of the time (about one to two hours from start to finish) involves taking calming meds, answering questions, and waiting until you're able to leave.
You can't drive, so bring someone with you or prepare to Uber. Your sight will be blurry with some light sensitivity and dryness for about a day; you'll be fully recovered within a week. Until then, you'll wear goggles at night to prevent yourself from touching your eyes. After that, your vision will be corrected and your eyesight won't change, aside from age-related shifts that would happen anyway, Dr. Behshad says. So yes, you could still need reading glasses in the future.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's June 2021 issue as "Protect Your Mom Vision." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here