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Is Your Birth Control Pill to Blame for Your Crappy Vision?

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Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock

I knew my body would change when I swapped out my birth control pills—which I had been taking for six-plus years—in favor of non-hormonal methods. I've done it before, back when an on/off again relationship meant on/off again birth control. So I felt like I had a good grasp on what to expect: a few breakouts in the beginning, some minor weight loss, and maybe some moodiness. What I didn't expect? Blurry vision. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Going Off the Pill

Now, I never had vision problems. I wear reading glasses half because my eyes get a little tired looking at a screen all day—and, TBH, half because I secretly like the way they look. But a few weeks post-prescription, I noticed a clear difference in my ability to see things at a distance: I couldn't read the menu behind the counter at my coffee shop, and I squinted to see street signs while driving.

This was all very sudden—and very strange. I'm not even 30 yet, and the experts say vision doesn't start to decline until your 40s. And even though my frantic Google searches said stress could play a role, this seemed unlikely; it's not like this is the first time I've ever been stressed. (P.S. Here are 10 weird ways your body reacts to stress.) Maybe my eyes are just aging at a super quick rate, I thought. The more it seemed like I might actually *need* glasses, the more I regretted wearing fashion glasses in my early 20s (hey, don't judge—I already said I regret it).

So I called Mina Massaro-Giordano, M.D., a professor of clinical ophthalmology at Penn Medicine, to learn more about what could be going on. The short of it? "Hormonal changes can affect your vision," she says. "Women sometimes experience blurry vision during pregnancy or when changing their birth control." (Related: How to Balance Your Hormones Naturally for Lasting Energy

Dr. Massaro-Giordano says there are two major reasons for this: First off, estrogen has been linked to inflammation: "Estrogen can have a pro- or anti-inflammatory effect on the eye depending on your genetics," she says. In the former case, inflammation can compromise an oil-producing gland in the eye, causing dryness. And that dryness has a blurring effect, says Dr. Massaro-Giordano.

Estrogen can also change the structure of the cornea, the part of the eye that refracts light. "Changes in the cornea changes the way light refracts or bends, which can cause blurry vision," says Dr. Massaro-Giordano. The dryness doesn't help: "Cornea shape can fluctuate depending on how hydrated it is." 

The good news? This is totally temporary (my blurry vision only lasted a couple of weeks). "Hormones eventually level out, plus the eye has the ability to adapt," says Dr. Massaro-Giordano. "Vision should always return to baseline if the prescription is correct and there isn't another underlying problem." (She doesn't suggest changing your prescription right away for this reason.) But if your vision doesn't return to normal within two months, see your eye doctor to rule out other problems, like diabetes. 

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