In Pregnancy, Sniffling May Not Be Just Emotional

By Kristine Hartvigsen on June 16th, 2017

Pregnant women have been known to tear up and reach for the tissue box when watching a moving Hallmark commercial or even reading a gloomy novel. This often is attributed to mood swings brought on by fluctuating hormones.

There are similar symptoms —also likely influenced by pregnancy hormones — that have nothing to do with internet videos of rescued puppies and everything to do with, well, basic nasal inflammation.

Rhinitis of pregnancy is fairly common, affecting more than 30% of pregnant women. It usually begins during the first trimester of pregnancy but can occur at any point in pregnancy. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip, which also can cause sore throat. Rhinitis of pregnancy typically dissipates within two weeks of giving birth.

“Rhinitis” literally means inflammation. As a pregnant woman’s blood volume increases to support the fetus, small blood vessels in the nose can swell with extra blood, causing congestion and stuffiness. Pregnancy hormones such as estrogen also can increase mucous production, and progesterone can thicken that mucous, further aggravating the sinuses.

It may be difficult to differentiate pregnancy rhinitis from run-of-the-mill seasonal allergies or even the common cold. Usually, pregnancy rhinitis does not cause itchy, red eyes like allergies can. Also, women who experience low-grade fever, headache, and persistent cough may be suffering from the common cold or an upper respiratory infection. To know for sure, they should consult their personal physician.

For the most part, rhinitis of pregnancy is a harmless inconvenience. But for pregnant women who have severe asthma, it can be a concern because rhinitis can trigger or aggravate asthma symptoms. Women with uncontrolled asthma carry a higher risk for pregnancy complications than those with well-controlled asthma. Acute asthma episodes can reduce the oxygen supply to the fetus and compromise its safety.

Experts suggest that Inhaled Corticosteroids (ICS) are safe to use and most effective for long-term control of acute asthma in pregnant women. However, some patients won’t fill or follow their prescription regimen out of fear it can hurt the baby.

According to the U.S. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP), other ways to treat symptoms include use of antihistamines such as loratadine or cetirizine. The program also recommends that pregnant women who already are taking allergy shots continue receiving them. However NAEPP does not recommend starting allergy shots while pregnant.

Simpler, more natural remedies include drinking plenty of water, using saline solution, sleeping with the head elevated, and using a humidifier. Before taking any remedy for rhinitis of pregnancy, women should consult their healthcare provider first.

This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.


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