Being pregnant can cause symptoms that mimic allergies or make allergy symptoms worse, so it’s important to know how to recognize when symptoms are actually from allergies and how to safely treat them.
You may be prepared for the well-known symptoms of pregnancy once you find out you’re having a baby, but you may not be prepared for allergy symptoms! Sometimes, being pregnant can cause symptoms that mimic allergies or make allergy symptoms worse, so it’s important to know how to recognize when symptoms are actually from allergies and how to safely treat them.
Allergies happen when the body overreacts to a substance in its environment (called an “allergen”). These normally harmless things are seen as “invaders” by the body and, so, the body attacks the substance and ramps up its immune system. Pollens, grasses, dust, and pets are some of the most common allergens. Congestion, sneezing, headache, runny nose, and itching eyes or skin follows exposure to these allergens.
The easiest way to avoid having allergy symptoms is to avoid exposure to the things that cause you to have symptoms. Also avoid smoke, strong odors, and car exhaust, since these can make allergies worse. Keep your house clean and vacuum often to remove allergens from your living spaces. If seasonal allergies are a problem for you, keep your windows closed: use the air conditioner to keep the humidity inside your house low and keep potentially irritating pollens or allergens out of the house. Also, if outdoor allergens bother you, wash your body and clothes after being outside.
Pregnant noses are often congested noses. During the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, your hormones increase blood flow all over your body (including your nose). This increased blood flow causes mucus membranes (such as the lining of your nose) to swell and soften. This can cause you to feel stuffy and your nose may be runny. You may even get nosebleeds or experience postnasal drip that can make you cough or gag. If you do not experience itching and sneezing along with your congestion, you are likely not having allergies but, instead, hormone-related congestion.
Pollens, grasses, dust, and pets are some of the most common allergens. Congestion, sneezing, headache, runny nose, and itching eyes or skin follows exposure to these allergens.
Lots of medicines are available to treat allergies, but not all of them are safe for women who are pregnant. The safest thing to do, if you aren’t sure what you can take, is to ask your doctor or pharmacist. And, remember, just because you were taking a certain allergy medicine before you got pregnant, you should not continue it during your pregnancy without your doctor’s approval. If you have been receiving allergy shots, it is usually safe to continue these once you get pregnant. Don’t start new allergy shots during your pregnancy, though.
Antihistamines are used to relieve the itching, watery symptoms (runny nose, watery eyes) of allergies. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is the most commonly recommended antihistamine during pregnancy. Claritin (loratadine) is also usually considered safe during pregnancy. Single-ingredient products are usually preferred, since combination products can lead to accidental overdoses. Antihistamines can make you tired, so do not take them when you need to be alert. Benadryl generally causes more drowsiness than Claritin.
Decongestants constrict the blood vessels and, therefore, decrease congestion. Pregnant women should not take decongestants like pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (known as Sudafed and Sudafed PE and available in many combination cold and allergy products), especially during the first trimester, since these drugs restrict blood flow all around your body, including to the placenta, and they have been known to cause birth defects. Sometimes, later in your pregnancy, if congestion is severe, your doctor may recommend that you use a decongestant once or twice a day for a short amount of time.
Some decongestants are available in nasal sprays. In this form, the medicine mostly stays in your nose and doesn’t enter the rest of your body, so some doctors may consider sprays safe for a very short time during pregnant. However, nasal sprays can make congestion worse if they are used for more than a few days. A menthol ointment such as Vicks VapoRub can be used instead of decongestants to help relieve congestion.
Steroid sprays that are sprayed directly into the nose are usually considered safe during pregnancy, if your symptoms have lasted for more than a few days or the symptoms are severe. Saline sprays do not contain any medicine, so these are safe to use while you are pregnant. They can be used frequently and they help clean and flush the nose and sinuses. Nose strips that open the nasal passages are also safe to use any time during pregnancy.
If you are having nasal congestion and/or other allergy symptoms, you may feel miserable and, then, you are at risk for not eating and sleeping well. Try to avoid things, including allergens, that could cause your body stress during pregnancy so you can take the best care of your body—and your baby. If you aren’t able to avoid allergens completely, you may need to manage your symptoms with medications, but talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication during pregnancy.