Pink Eye and Pregnancy: How to Safely Treat It
As a pregnant woman, you know that anything you put in your body, including medication, can affect your unborn child. If you have developed symptoms of pink eye, you may wonder what treatment options are safe for you. Use the information here as a guide to safely treat pink eye without worrying about harming your baby.
What is Pink Eye?
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the semi-transparent membrane that covers the surface of your eye. As the outermost ocular layer, the conjunctiva is exposed to environmental hazards, making it vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, allergens, and trauma. Such exposure may cause pink eye, which can range from mild to moderate to severe.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
Some common signs of pink eye include:
- Red eyes
- Gritty or rough feeling in the eye
- Itchiness and irritation
- Pain and swelling
- Discharge from the eye, which may be clear and watery or yellow and goopy
- Crusty buildup along the edge of the eyelid
- Sensitivity to light
Causes of Pink Eye during Pregnancy
Conjunctivitis is as common during pregnancy as at any other time, and the causes are the same for pregnant and the non-pregnant population. Here are the most common reasons why conjunctivitis happens:
Pink eye may develop from wearing contact lenses improperly, allowing bacterial infection to set in. Germs can also spread to your eyes if you touch them after handling fecal matter or infected mucus. In addition, the bacteria that cause sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause bacterial pink eye.
The viruses that cause influenza, the common cold, and even COVID-19 can cause viral conjunctivitis as the illness runs its course. Symptoms of pink eye may develop before, during, or immediately following a viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, and strict hand hygiene should be observed with viral pink eye.
Exposure to seasonal allergens such as dust, mold, pet dander, and more can cause allergic conjunctivitis. Typically the symptoms are less severe and more chronic, often without the crusting or oozing characteristic of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis.
Irritants and Trauma
Having a foreign body stuck in your eye or catching an elbow to the face can injure your eye, leading to inflammation and redness. Chemicals that might splash into the eyes, such as cleaning solutions or battery acids, are extremely toxic to the conjunctiva and cornea, and can cause irreversible damage if they come into contact with the eyes.
Because pink eye has so many potential causes, if you think you have this condition it is important to seek an evaluation from an eye doctor who can diagnose the type of conjunctivitis you have and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Safe Conjunctivitis Treatment during Pregnancy
During pregnancy, it is usually best to pursue conservative therapies before turning to pharmaceuticals. In fact, the general rule is to take the least amount of medication possible while pregnant, even if the medicine is deemed safe for your unborn child. If you suspect that allergies, irritants, or trauma caused your case of pink eye, try these at-home remedies to relieve your symptoms before seeking professional medical care:
- Apply a cool, damp compress to your affected eye. Be sure to use a clean cloth each time to avoid spreading the infection.
- Gently clean your eyes with wet cotton balls or pads to remove crusty buildup or irritating discharge.
- Stop wearing contact lenses until the condition clears up.
- Use non-medicated artificial tears, available without a prescription.
- Maintain good hygiene and only touch your eyes with freshly washed hands.
Additional Pink Eye Treatments Your Eye Doctor May Recommend
If your symptoms linger or worsen after a few days, even while attempting the conservative treatments outlined above, chances are you have bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. Request an appointment with an eye doctor and tell them you are pregnant. That way, they can be sure to only recommend medications to treat pink eye that are safe to take during pregnancy, such as:
- An antibiotic called erythromycin for bacterial conjunctivitis, available in ointment form.
- Antihistamines for allergic conjunctivitis, including cetirizine or loratadine (over-the-counter oral medications) and ketotifen (eye drops)
All of the medications listed here are category B drugs, meaning they are presumed safe during pregnancy—except for ketotifen. This category C drug may be unsafe to use while pregnant. Check with your OB-GYN before agreeing to use ketotifen, or any medication, while pregnant.