Outsmarting Pregnancy Allergies

How Is Asthma Treated During Pregnancy?

Between 4 and 8 percent of pregnant women have asthma, a respiratory condition in which the airways become narrowed when exposed to certain triggers. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and persistent coughing. It's important to control your symptoms: If you're not getting enough air, neither is your baby.

About 70 percent of people with asthma also have allergies. Asthma triggers include cold air, exercise, strong odors, and lung irritants such as secondhand smoke.

Poorly controlled asthma can deprive your baby of oxygen, increasing the risk of premature delivery, poor growth, and low birth weight. It can also contribute to preeclampsia, a form of high blood pressure that can result in poor fetal growth and premature birth.

Fortunately, most asthma medications are safe during pregnancy. If you have occasional, mild symptoms, you'll likely need treatment with an inhaled bronchodilator spray such as Ventolin only during flare-ups. If you have persistent mild to severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend an inhaled steroid, such as Pulmicort. Some women with moderate to severe symptoms might need a long-acting bronchodilator such as Serevent.

Doctors prefer to treat asthma with inhaled meds because very little of the drug reaches the fetus. However, if these don't effectively control your asthma, you can opt to take an oral steroid such as prednisone until symptoms are under control.

The severity of your symptoms may change during pregnancy. Studies suggest that they worsen in about one-third of pregnant women, improve in one-third, and remain unchanged in the others. Many asthma patients experience heartburn, and although the connection is unclear, heartburn may cause symptoms to worsen. To ease your heartburn -- and your asthma -- sleep with your head elevated, eat small and frequent meals, avoid food within two hours of bedtime, or take an over-the-counter antacid.

Allergy and asthma symptoms can cause discomfort but in most cases won't hurt your baby. Take your asthma and allergy medications as directed, and avoid triggers to ease your symptoms and reduce your need for medication.

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