If you can’t step outside without sneezing, chances are seasonal allergies are to blame. Pregnancy can cause enough symptoms as it is. But adding an itchy nose to an itchy belly can make for a long trimester.
Seasonal allergies cause symptoms, including:
- runny nose
The condition can affect your breathing. So can pregnancy. Fortunately, there are many safe treatments you can use to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.
You need to be careful of the medications you take and other treatments during pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about treating seasonal allergies.
Is it allergies or just plain pregnancy congestion? Here’s what you need to know about what’s behind your stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy eyes and what treatments are safe.
If sneezing, sniffling and itchy eyes began plaguing you for the very first time during pregnancy, you may be wondering whether having a baby bump triggered seasonal allergies. If you are a known allergy sufferer, you’re probably wondering if and how your pregnancy might affect your symptoms.
For one, pregnancy-related nasal congestion, not allergies, could be behind all the sneezes and stuffiness. But how can you tell the difference? Here’s what you need to know about allergies during pregnancy, including what medications are safe to take while you’re expecting.
Can I get allergies while I’m pregnant?
Yes, you can get allergies while you’re pregnant, sometimes for the first time and certainly if you have a history of them. Allergies are very common in pregnancy, and not all women who experience them are long-term allergy sufferers. Many women with no known prior allergies only complain of their symptoms during pregnancy.
How will my allergies affect my pregnancy and baby?
If you have allergies, you can definitely have a safe, healthy pregnancy. In fact, your baby likely won’t notice a thing in there, even if you’re feeling pretty lousy. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, and always check before using any medication — even those you were regularly taking before conceiving (some are considered safe during pregnancy, while others won’t get the green light). Also try as best as you can to steer clear of known allergy triggers when possible (tricky, yes, especially when the culprit is pollen or grass at the height of allergy season).
Are allergies worse when you’re pregnant?
Though about a third of lucky expectant allergy sufferers find a temporary respite from their symptoms during pregnancy, another third find their symptoms get worse, while a final third find their symptoms stay about the same.
Symptoms of allergies during pregnancy
If you have an allergy like hay fever (rhinitis), you’ll likely experience the following symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes, skin and/or mouth
Hay fever often flares up at the start of spring and later in the summer or early fall. But it doesn’t always follow a predictable schedule, since it depends on the specific environmental allergens causing your sensitivity.
Other triggers like mold, dust and pet dander can cause allergic reactions at various (or all) times of the year.
Moms-to-be with seasonal allergies can use several at-home treatments to relieve their symptoms. Some examples include:
- Creating a saline nasal spray by combining 8 ounces of warm water with 1/4 salt to the water. You can add this to a spray or squeeze bottle to irrigate and soothe irritated nasal passages. Neti pots are another option.
- Watching news reports and checking pollen counts daily. During episodes of large pollen counts, pregnant women can avoid too much time outdoors to keep exposure down.
- Avoiding going outdoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., the times when pollen counts are usually the highest.
- Taking showers and changing clothing after being outside. This can help remove pollen that builds up on hair and clothing.
- Wearing a protective filter mask when doing outdoor activities like mowing the lawn or gardening.
- Wearing over-the-counter nasal strips at night. These position the nasal passages so they’re more open. This reduces a person’s symptoms.
If you can avoid whatever’s causing your seasonal allergies, you can often keep your symptoms at bay.
The difference between allergies and nasal congestion as a pregnancy symptom
Expectant noses are, unfortunately, stuffy noses. Nasal congestion usually starts sometime in the second trimester, as high levels of estrogen and progesterone increase blood flow throughout your body — including in your nose — causing mucus membranes to swell and soften. This can make you as stuffed up as if you had a cold or an allergy, resulting in nosebleeds during pregnancy and/or postnasal drip that may make you cough or even gag at night.
So how can you tell the difference between allergies and a bad case of pregnancy congestion? If you’re suffering from allergies, you’ll most likely experience the additional symptoms mentioned above (sneezing, itchy eyes, etc.) along with the stuffiness and coughing. If noticeable itchiness and sneezing aren’t plaguing you, it could just be the hormone-related congestion of pregnancy. If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.
Most pregnant women can safely take over-the-counter allergy medications. Examples of medications that have research to support that they’re safe for pregnant women to take (as of currently available data) include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- chlorpheniramine (ChlorTrimeton)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- loratadine (Claritin)
There are always risks when taking any medication during pregnancy. Women should talk with their doctors before taking allergy medicines to make sure they aren’t potentially harmful.
While doctors consider many oral over-the-counter medications safe for seasonal allergies, using both oral and nasal spray decongestants isn’t as studied or well-known.
Use of nasal sprays may be safer than oral decongestants. That’s because nasal sprays aren’t as likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream. An example is oxymetazoline, an ingredient in brands like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine.
Women should exercise caution when using nasal sprays for more than three days. This is because using decongestants for longer can make allergy symptoms worse by causing nasal swelling.
Some women also get allergy shots. These are compounds of allergens that are injected as a means to desensitize a person to an allergen. If a woman becomes pregnant while she is in the course of her allergy shots, she can usually keep getting them.
Pregnancy isn’t a good time to start getting allergy shots. It’s possible they can cause strong allergic reactions. Without knowing a woman’s reaction, it’s best to delay starting allergy shots until after giving birth.
What kind of allergy medicine is safe while pregnant?
Check with your practitioner to see what medications you can safely take during pregnancy. That goes even if you were already regularly taking prescription, over-the-counter or homeopathic medications: Don’t continue to use any of them until you get the go-ahead from a practitioner, who should be the first and final word on any allergy treatments you use.
That said, there are some general do’s and don’ts about allergy medications during pregnancy:
- Antihistamines may or may not be safe to use during pregnancy, so be sure to check with your doctor. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is most commonly recommended. Plain Claritin (loratadine) is usually considered safe, but check with your practitioner — some won’t give the green light, particularly in the first trimester. Some doctors OK Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) and triprolidine on a limited basis, though most recommend finding an alternative.
- Regular decongestants containing the ingredients pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (like Sudafed, Claritin-D and DayQuil) are off-limits for pregnant women, especially during the first trimester. Some doctors allow limited use (once or twice for a day or so) thereafter, since using decongestants more frequently than that can restrict blood flow to the placenta. Don’t worry if you’ve already taken them — just let your doctor know before doing so again. Vicks VapoRub is safe to use as directed.
- Nasal sprays containing steroids are generally considered safe for expecting women, but check with your practitioner for brand and dosing. Saline sprays are always fine, as are nasal strips. For nonsteroidal nasal sprays containing ozymetazoline (like Afrin), steer clear unless you have a definite OK from your doctor.
Allergy treatments during pregnancy
Allergy shots are considered safe for pregnant women, but only for those who had been on the receiving end for a while before conceiving. Most allergists say it’s not a good idea to start allergy shots during pregnancy, because they trigger changes in your already-fluctuating immune system and may cause unexpected reactions.
Preventing allergies when you’re expecting
Wondering what you can do for allergies during pregnancy besides taking medicine? In general, the best defense is a good offense. Try these tips to prevent or alleviate allergy symptoms while you’re expecting:
- Stay away from people who are smoking. Smoke can make allergies worse, and exposure to second-hand smoke during pregnancy isn’t good for you or your baby.
- If you’re allergic to pollen: Try to stay inside where there’s filtered, air-conditioned air. If you do go outside, try wearing wraparound sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes. When you come back inside, take off your shoes, wash your hands and face, and change clothes (throwing the ones you were wearing in the wash) so the pollen doesn’t stay with you.
- If you’re allergic to dust: Here’s your excuse to get someone else to do the cleaning for you! Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, a wet mop or a sweeper to avoid stirring up dust. A microfiber cloth is better than a traditional feather duster. Also try to stay away from attics, basements and other musty places.
- If you’re allergic to pets: Let your dog- and cat-owning friends know of your allergy before you drop by, so they have time to make arrangements (and if you’re suddenly allergic to your own pet, try to make at least one room in your house pet-free).
Food allergies during pregnancy
Wondering if peanut butter is safe for the little peanut you’re feeding? Good news: The latest research suggests that eating peanuts while pregnant not only doesn’t trigger peanut and other allergies in baby-to-be, but it may actually prevent them. So as long as you’re not personally allergic to peanuts, there’s no reason to skip them now that you’re expecting. Same goes for dairy and other highly-allergenic foods.
If you yourself have ever suffered from food allergies, however, speak to your practitioner and an allergist about whether you should think about restricting your diet in any way while you’re pregnant and/or breastfeeding. The recommendations may be slightly different for you than for your baby.