Allergies & Asthma During Pregnancy

Are you suffering from seasonal allergies or asthma during pregnancy? Ease the wheezing and sneezing without harming your baby with these helpful (and healthy!) tips.

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Allergies

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Allergies

For some of us, breathing easy is easier said than done. About 10 percent of women of childbearing age have allergies, and about 4 to 7 percent have asthma. If you're one of them, you're probably wondering how your condition -- or the medications you take to treat it -- will affect your unborn baby. Fortunately, there are lots of safe ways to ease your sneezing and wheezing during pregnancy without harming your fetus. Here's how.

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What Are Allergies?

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What Are Allergies?

When your immune system senses a threat, such as harmful bacteria or a virus, it responds by releasing powerful chemicals such as histamines to attack and destroy it. An allergy develops when there is an immune system response to an otherwise harmless substance, such as pollen or animal dander. The result is allergy symptoms -- sniffling, sneezing, itching, or wheezing, just to name a few.

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What Am I Allergic To?

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What Am I Allergic To?

If you suffer from nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny nose, coughing, or watery eyes -- especially in the spring and summer months -- you're probably allergic to the wide variety of plant pollens that fly through the air. Misery loves company: at least 10 percent of all adults and children in the U.S. suffer such symptoms when pollen is in the air.

But even if the so-called sneezing season is over, you may have many allergens lurking in your home too, leading to year-round distress. Common culprits are mold, dust/dust mites, roaches, and pet dander. While allergies will not harm you or your unborn baby, they can add to your discomfort at a time when you may not be feeling great to begin with -- especially if you're in your first trimester or late third trimester.

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Can I Prevent Allergies?

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Can I Prevent Allergies?

Your first line of defense against allergy symptoms should be to try and avoid contact with the allergens themselves. For example, if you're allergic to pollen, you should keep your windows closed and avoid outdoor activities in the morning, when the pollen count is usually at its highest.

If your symptoms stem from sources inside your home, use a mask when vacuuming, keep your bedroom free of pets, and encase pillows and mattresses in special covers to avoid dust mites. Dust mites flourish when your home is humid. To control their numbers, use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity in your home below 50 percent.

If avoidance isn't enough, you can try using a saline nasal spray to help ease congestion. But if your allergies are severe enough to interfere with your eating or sleeping, you may want to talk to your doctor about using medication, as there are a number of allergy medications that can safely provide relief during your pregnancy.

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Are There Medications I Can Safely Take?

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Are There Medications I Can Safely Take?

Always check with your healthcare provider/physician before taking any medications, including OTC ones, especially in the first trimester. Commonly prescribed medications include antihistamines and decongestants. Many doctors believe that chlorpheniramine, the active ingredient in Chlor-Trimeton, is among the safest antihistamines. But there's also recent reassuring data for two of the newer non-sedating antihistamines, loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec).

If you need a decongestant, many doctors recommend oxymetazoline, which comes in nasal spray or drop form, such as Afrin. But this should be used sparingly and not for more than 3 days at a time to prevent symptoms from worsening. Your system absorbs little of the drug when you take it nasally, making it a good choice for pregnant women. (Pseudoephedrine should be avoided during the first trimester.) Avoid oral decongestants, especially during the first trimester. Nasal sprays containing cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom) have also been shown to be safe when used during pregnancy.

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Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

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Natural Remedies for Relieving Allergies

Natural Remedies for Relieving Allergies

While many natural remedies haven't been adequately studied in pregnant women, there are a few you can try to ease the discomfort brought on by allergies. A nasal rinse can help flush away congestion, so try it using a neti pot filled with a saline nasal solution or distilled or filtered water once or twice a day. As best you can, avoid coming in contact with triggers that may contribute to your allergy symptoms. For example, be aware of the pollen count each day and plan any outings accordingly. Change your clothes after you've been outside and take a shower so you can be rid of outdoor triggers like pollen, grass and ragweed. Remove shoes right before entering the house and skip hanging your clothes on the line (both footwear and clothing can bring allergens into the house). Also, consider using air conditioning and forgoing opening windows during pollen season.

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What Is Asthma?

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What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a serious respiratory condition in which the airways become narrowed. Symptoms include wheezing, chest constriction, and shortness of breath, and are triggered by environmental factors, such as common allergens, cold air, exercise, strong odors (such as paint), and infections. When you come into contact with an asthma trigger, your airways become inflamed, tighten up, and produce excess mucus, which leads to asthma symptoms.

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Can Asthma Medication Hurt My Unborn Baby?

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Can Asthma Medication Hurt My Unborn Baby?

As long as your asthma remains well controlled, it shouldn't affect your unborn baby's health. Fortunately, many commonly used asthma medications are safe to use during pregnancy. Many women with milder asthma can control their symptoms with an inhaled bronchodilator. Inhalers containing albuterol (Ventolin, Proair, Proventil) are considered safe in pregnancy. Women with persistent asthma may require treatment with an inhaled steroid, such as budesonide (Pulmicort) or beclomethasone (QVAR) or a leukotriene modifier such as montelukast (Singulair). Budesonide has the most human data and has a category FDA rating of B, which means it's considered to be safe for use in pregnancy. But experts agree that if your asthma is well controlled on a different inhaled steroid prior to pregnancy that it would be reasonable to continue it during pregnancy.

Women with severe asthma that can't be controlled with inhaled medications may need to take an oral steroid, such as prednisone, until symptoms are controlled. The risks associated with oral steroid use would be less than the potential risks of a severe asthma exacerbation, which could include complications for mother and baby including maternal or fetal death.

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What If I Have an Asthma Attack During Pregnancy?

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What If I Have an Asthma Attack During Pregnancy?

It's important to do everything you can to control your asthma. Poorly controlled asthma can lead to reduced oxygen levels for the fetus, increasing the risk of slowed growth and low birth weight. It can also contribute to health issues such as preeclampsia, stillbirth, and placental problems.

In addition to medication, it's vital to take steps to avoid flare-ups in the first place, so talk to your health-care provider about developing a strategy.

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Can I Prevent Asthma Attacks?

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Can I Prevent Asthma Attacks?

Just as with allergies, your first line of defense against asthma attacks should be to avoid exposure to asthma triggers. Also reduce your exposure to common allergens, and make sure to stop smoking and to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, another common asthma culprit.

Be sure to get a flu shot in October or November, as the flu can trigger episodes as well. By avoiding these irritants, you may be able to reduce your need for medication.

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Safe Exercise with Asthma

Safe Exercise with Asthma

Of course you should always follow the advice of your healthcare provider, but when it comes to exercise, you can usually work out at the same level you were used to before you became pregnant -- even with asthma. You should be able to participate in all of the sports and exercises you enjoyed in the past (again, within reason and adhering to any modifications or suggestions from your doctor). If you find you can't exercise as you normally do, see your asthma specialist so he can perform spirometry and a physical examination to determine whether your asthma is still under control.

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Could I Have an Attack During Labor?

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Could I Have an Attack During Labor?

Asthma flare-ups are uncommon during labor and delivery. But when they do occur, they can be readily controlled with medication. It's nothing that you should worry about.

Copyright © 2010 Meredith Corporation. Updated May 2015.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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