Ophthalmic drugs in pregnancy and lactation


A number of drugs are available for ophthalmic use. This review focuses on single drug products and, although combination drug products are not discussed, these formulations typically include the drugs reviewed here.

Since it appears that ophthalmic medications are commonly used for a wide range of conditions and ages, one would expect to see numerous reports of their use in the eyes of pregnant or breastfeeding patients. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The majority of the drugs have no human pregnancy or lactation data. When there are human data, it invariably involves the systemic use of the drug for other indications, rather than its ophthalmic use. Moreover, the animal reproduction data are usually not relevant because they involve systemic drugs (e.g., IV or oral). Consequently, determining the level of risk an ophthalmic drug presents to an embryo and/or fetus is primarily based on time and dose, the two cardinal principles of teratology.

Gerald G. Briggs

Gerald G. Briggs

Avoiding exposure during organogenesis – the period when a drug can cause developmental toxicity (altered growth, structural anomalies, functional and/or behavioral deficits, or death) – is usually best, but may not be possible in some cases, including glaucoma, eye infections, and eye surgery. Fortunately, the systemic concentrations of drugs applied topically to the eye are typically thought to be low, even though the levels of most drugs have not been studied. Thus, the risk to the embryo and/or fetus in most cases can be considered low and the drug classified as compatible in pregnancy and breastfeeding.

If a topical eye drug must be used during pregnancy or lactation, teach the patient how to decrease the amount of drug reaching the systemic circulation. This involves placing pressure over the tear duct in the corner of the eye for 1 minute or more, then removing any excess solution with absorbent tissue.

In the sections below, drugs are shown by indication or by pharmacologic class. The term “human eye data” refers to the use of the drug in pregnancy and/or lactation.


If you are caring for a pregnant patient who is being treated for glaucoma, two recent reviews may be helpful: Surv Ophthalmol. 2011 Jul-Aug;56(4):324-35 and Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2014 Mar;25(2):93-7.

Sympathomimetics (alpha-adrenergic agonists) include apraclonidine (Iopidine), which has no human eye data, and brimonidine (Alphagan P), which has one case report in pregnancy and breastfeeding showing no fetal or nursing infant harm.

Four of the five beta-adrenergic blockers have no human eye data: betaxolol (Betoptic), carteolol (Ocupress), levobunolol (Betagan), and metipranolol, but there are two case reports for timolol (Betimol, Istalol, Timoptic, Timoptic-XE) showing no fetal harm in one newborn and growth restriction in the other.

Among the miotics, there are limited human eye data for pilocarpine (Isopto Carpine) and no fetal harm was observed. For echothiophate iodide (Phospholine Iodide), there is one case report of a normal full-term infant whose mother was treated with the agent up to 32 weeks’ gestation and then with pilocarpine for 8 weeks (Arch Ophthalmol. 1968 Mar;79[3]:283-5).


Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors include brinzolamide (Azopt), which has no human eye data, and dorzolamide (Trusopt), which has growth restriction in one case treated with fixed combination of dorzolamide and timolol. There are no human eye data for unoprostone isopropyl (Rescula), a synthetic docosanoid.

Of the four prostaglandin analogs, three have no human eye data, bimatoprost (Lumigan), tafluprost (Zioptan), and travoprost (Travatan Z). There were 11 pregnancies exposed to latanoprost (Xalatan). The outcomes of these cases were one lost to follow-up, one miscarriage, and nine infants without congenital anomalies (Am J Ophthalmol. 2004 Aug;138[2]:305-6).

Mitomycin (Mitosol) is an antimetabolite that is given topically to the surgical site of glaucoma filtration surgery. No reports of its use in pregnant humans have been located. According to the manufacturer, clinically significant systemic concentrations are not expected.


Povidone-iodine (Betadine) is indicated for prepping of the periocular region. There does not appear to be any risk to the embryo-fetus or nursing infant from this indication.


The four ophthalmic agents in this class are alcaftadine (Lastacaft), azelastine (Optivar), emedastine (Emadine), and epinastine (Elestat). There are no human eye data for these agents but, like antihistamines given systemically, they are probably compatible in pregnancy and lactation.

Antihistamine-mast cell stabilizers

There are no human eye data for bepotastine (Bepreve), ketotifen (Alaway), and olopatadine (Pataday, Patanol). Peak plasma concentrations of bepotastine were 5.1-7.3 ng/mL for 1-2 hours after instillation and were less than 2 ng/mL at 24 hours. It appears that these drugs can also be classified as compatible in pregnancy and lactation.

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