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Could My Medications Cause Vision Problems?

By Brenda Conaway
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD

Most of us know that medicine can sometimes cause side effects such as dry mouth. But did you know that medications can also cause vision problems such as dry eyes or sensitivity to light? Some drugs can even lead to serious eye problems or vision loss.

"It's very important for people to be aware of what conditions they have, what medications they're taking, and how they may increase risk of certain eye problems," says Scott Greenstein, MD, FACS, instructor in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Most of these medicines are perfectly safe, and you never get into a problem with them," he says, but a small percentage can cause vision problems.

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When taking a medication, be sure to tell your doctor about any vision problems. Catching problems early can prevent permanent damage to your eyesight. In some cases, your doctor may want to monitor your eyesight while you take a medication.  

Below are 10 types of drugs that may cause vision side effects. This list is not comprehensive, so if you have any questions about a drug you take, be sure to talk with your doctor.

1. Acne Medication

Generic name: Isotretinoin

Brand names: Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret

Isotretinoin treats severe acne that has not responded to other treatments. Vision symptoms may include dry eyes and a sudden decrease in night vision, Greenstein says, so be careful when driving at night.

How to prevent vision problems: This medication can cause a number of other serious side effects, so your doctor will monitor you while you are taking it.

2. Antihistamines

Antihistamines relieve hay fever and other allergy symptoms. They work by blocking histamines produced by the body that cause a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and itching. In some people, these drugs can cause an emergency condition called angle-closure glaucoma, which occurs when the pressure inside the eye increases rapidly. Symptoms include headache, severe eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and seeing halos around lights.

"Glaucoma is a very common disease, especially in people over 40," says Richard G. Shugarman, MD, a member of the editorial board of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and voluntary professor of ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine. Glaucoma basically falls into two categories, open angle and narrow angle, he says. Most people with glaucoma have open angle, while a small percentage have narrow angle.

If you have narrow angles, says Shugarman, who also runs a private practice in West Palm Beach Florida, you should not take any types of drugs that might dilate your pupils, such as antihistamines. You also need to avoid taking anticholinergics, or antispasmodic medications, he says. These may include scopolamine patches for sea sickness and drugs that calm diarrhea and muscle spasms in people with gastrointestinal problems.

How to prevent vision problems: If you notice severe eye pain, sudden visual blurring, or other symptoms of angle closure glaucoma, get immediate medical help. Glaucoma usually has no symptoms, so you can have it and not know it. Regular eye exams can detect glaucoma early on and help prevent vision loss.

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