How to Relieve Rhinitis Symptoms During Pregnancy
Some of the symptoms during pregnancy, such as vomiting, are commonly known. However, many women experience other symptoms and little is said about them, such as pregnancy rhinitis, which is caused by conditions associated with gestation and often confused with allergies caused by environmental allergens.
Although it is one of the most common symptoms, pregnancy-induced rhinitis is often misclassified and underdiagnosed, stated a clinical review published in 2013 in Rhinology journal.
"Pregnancy rhinitis is a form of hormonal rhinitis, which means it's influenced by hormones in the body. It starts after the second month of pregnancy and, on average, resolves within two weeks after delivery," said Garen S. Wolff, M.D., an allergist-immunologist and the chief physician of Wolff Allergy & Asthma in Detroit.
Although it does not pose a risk for pregnancy, rhinitis could affect a woman's quality of life and sleep.
"That is why it is advisable to inform your regular physician, so that symptomatic treatment can be considered," said Maria Tur Torres, M.D., an OB-GYN based in Mallorca, Spain.
What are the symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis?
The exact causes of pregnancy rhinitis are not known in detail, however, it is related to the large levels of the hormone estrogen produced by the placenta at this stage. This hormone can increase mucus production and may be related to inflammation of the nasal turbinates.
Symptoms may vary from woman to woman, but according to Tur Torres, they frequently include:
- Constant coughing
- Nasal itching
- Runny nose
Rhinitis and sleeping problems
"Symptoms can become very uncomfortable, making it difficult to get a good night's rest and producing headaches," Tur Torres said.
For this reason, many women tend to feel overwhelmed if the discomfort doesn't go away quickly.
One of the symptoms that can worsen at night and make it difficult to rest is nasal congestion.
"Pregnancy rhinitis can certainly affect quality of life and sleep. This can lead to feeling tired throughout the day. If the nasal congestion lasts for a long time, it can lead to inflammation of the sinuses and ears," Wolff said.
With nasal congestion comes the increased possibility of mouth breathing. This further affects the quality of sleep and the occurrence of snoring. During pregnancy, snoring has been associated with risks of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and sleep apnea.
"Maternal snoring may increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, and being overweight or obese before pregnancy with snoring is remarkable for researchers," stated a 2016 study published in PLOS One.
During pregnancy, sleep-disordered breathing may occur, with an increased risk during sleep deprivation, according to the American Thoracic Society.
"Getting too little sleep or having many short awakenings during sleep can cause your throat muscles to become tired and relax too much, resulting in episodes of airway narrowing or blockage during sleep," the society states.
Treatments for rhinitis during pregnancy
In many cases, the symptoms disappear on their own, but when they remain for a long time, the physician may indicate some pharmaceutical or natural treatments. However, you should pay attention to this: Not all medications are recommended during pregnancy.
Many healthcare providers recommend nasal irrigation with saline solutions to clear the nasal passages. Nasal strips may also be helpful in keeping the nasal passages open.
"Research has found that Benadryl, which is a first-generation antihistamine, is safe during pregnancy. Because drowsiness can occur, it should be taken with caution," Wolff said. "Cetirizine and loratadine are both second-generation antihistamines and have also been found to be safe during pregnancy."
What to avoid and what to try
"All treatments should be discussed with a physician to ensure safety for the fetus," Wolff recommended, adding that many treatments are still unproved in pregnant women or have been discouraged during the gestation period.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestants are not recommended, Wolff said. They are not safe during pregnancy, and their ingredients don't work for pregnancy rhinitis. They may give you some momentary relief, but then they can make your symptoms worse.
Here are some tips for women with rhinitis:
- Raise the head of the bed with an extra pillow to lessen nasal congestion.
- Try to always breathe through your nose and not through your mouth.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and natural juices, to hydrate your body, but avoid drinks with caffeine, sugar or alcohol.
- Don't expose yourself to environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke and chemicals.
- Moderate exercise can help reduce nasal congestion.
- A humidifier can help you maintain humidity in your home to keep your nose from drying out.
- Don't blow your nose vigorously, so you avoid adding pressure to the nasal mucosa.
Talking to your doctor is essential to make them aware of the symptoms and to discuss safe medication options, Wolff emphasized.
"The most critical time for a fetus is during the first trimester when organs are forming," Wolff said. "It is very important to choose medications that don't affect the fetus."