Allergies During Pregnancy
Ah Spring...Ah Choo!
Spring and summer are wonderful times of the year to be pregnant. You can get outside and walk, enjoy the warmth of the sun and ... if you have allergies ... sneeze a lot. Tree pollen that is blown around in the pleasant months of spring, usually April and early May, grass pollen that is prevalent in May and June, molds that appear when the weather heats up and then ragweed in the late summer and early fall can all trigger allergic responses that make pregnancy allergies a real joy if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. If allergies beset you, the best time to get outside is right after the rain, when the air is cleaner for a while.
Allergy rhinitis (running nose and congestion) that is present before pregnancy can go one of three ways when you become pregnant. It can get better, worse, or stay the same. The changes are dependent upon a few factors including seasonal allergies and pregnancy hormones. There is a type of rhinitis that is peculiar to pregnancy and it's called (fittingly) "rhinitis of pregnancy". The symptoms of it mimic allergy rhinitis but, since they are non-allergic in nature, these symptoms do not respond to anti-histamines.
Many women dealing with allergy symptoms during pregnancy would rather not take any allergy medications. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose and watery eyes are considered to be part of the pregnancy experience and the thought of the possible dangers of allergy medicine to her unborn baby can keep a woman far from the drug counter. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that no drugs are considered completely safe in pregnancy (based on the fact that no pregnant women would sign up for drug tests while pregnant), research has shown that some medications can be relatively safe.
Categories of Medications Used During Pregnancy
In 1979 the FDA divided medications into categories based on use during pregnancy. Pregnancy category "A" medications are medications in which there are good studies in pregnant women showing the safety of the medication to the baby in the first trimester. There are very few medications in this category and none of them are for asthma. Category "B" medications show good safety studies in pregnancy animals where there are no links to any increased risk of medical problems to the fetus. Many over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications fall into category "B". Other allergy medications fall into category "C", wherein medications may result in adverse effects on the fetus of pregnant animals (no human studies have been done), but there may be instances where the benefits outweigh the risks for humans. Category "D" medications show clear risk to the fetus and Category "X" medications indicate clear evidence of birth defects in animals and humans alike. These should not be used in pregnancy.
It is very important to have a risk-benefit discussion with the doctor before taking any medications. The benefits of the medications should be weighed against the risks and the medication should only be taken if the benefits outweigh the risks significantly. Many women and their doctors feel it is better and safer not to use medications at all during pregnancy.
Better Safe than Sorry
There are some ways to combat allergies during pregnancy without using drugs. One way is to use a nasal saline spray, which is a salt water solution that is totally safe. Several squirts into each nostril as often as needed can be a blessing when pregnancy rhinitis (which doesn't respond to medications anyway) attacks. Reducing allergens in the home can also help to reduce allergic reactions. Some suggestions for ways to reduce allergens at home include using pillows that are synthetic-fiber-filled rather than down-filled. Use zippered covers on the pillows and mattress and wash bedding in hot water because it kills dust mites. Replace carpeting with vinyl or wood. If you can't take the carpeting out, then use a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter system. Rather than pushing dust around with a dry cloth, use an electrostatic cloth to pick up dirt, dust and hair from hard surfaces. If it is possible to remove pets from the home, then do. However, if you can't put the pets out, then keep them out of the bedroom and make sure they are bathed regularly.