Feeling a little stuffed up lately? Or perhaps you are constantly blowing a runny nose? If so, you are not alone. Many women experience symptoms of nasal congestion, coughing, and sneezing during pregnancy. In fact, it is so common during pregnancy that the condition even has it’s own name – pregnancy rhinitis. Pregnancy rhinitis can really impact upon the quality of your life, making it difficult to sleep, breath comfortably, and just function from day to day. Here is some information on what else you can expect with pregnancy rhinitis and some tips to help soothe that stuffed up nose!
What is Pregnancy Rhinitis?
Pregnancy rhinitis occurs when your nasal passageways become irritated and inflamed during pregnancy. As a result, you experience nasal congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose. It is very similar to allergic rhinitis, except that it does not appear to be caused by any environmental allergens or toxins. Pregnancy rhinitis lasts for at least six weeks, and can occur at anytime throughout your pregnancy, although it commonly occurs in the first trimester. Symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis usually resolve on their own within two weeks of labor and delivery.
How Common is Pregnancy Rhinitis?
Pregnancy rhinitis is actually one of the most common discomforts associated with pregnancy. Like morning sickness and backaches, thousands of pregnant women experience pregnancy rhinitis every year. In fact, it is believed that between 20% and 30% of all pregnant women will suffer from pregnancy rhinitis to some degree.
How Does the Nose Work?
You nose and nasal passageways are a very important part of your body. Not only are they necessary for proper breathing, but they also help to protect you from dangerous environmental irritants and biological hazards. The inside of your nasal passages are lined with special mucus membranes, called mucosa. It is mucosa that secretes nasal mucus, which flows out through the nostrils and down through the back of your throat. This mucus helps to catch any toxins that you breathe in, including pollen, dust mites, bacteria and viruses.
Sometimes however, the mucosa inside of the nasal passageway becomes irritated. As a result, they produce extra amounts of nasal mucus. This mucus can become thick and discolored, leading to nasal congestion. Or it can be extremely thin, leading to a runny nose and post-nasal drip. This is exactly what happens during pregnancy rhinitis.
Symptoms of Pregnancy Rhinitis
Symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis vary from woman to woman, however, they typically include:
- persistent coughing
- nasal itching
Some women will experience headaches associated with the nasal congestion caused by pregnancy rhinitis.
Causes of Pregnancy Rhinitis
Although it is believed that the condition is caused by changing hormone levels during pregnancy, researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact cause of pregnancy rhinitis. During pregnancy, the placenta produces large amounts of estrogen. Estrogen is known to exacerbate mucus production and may cause mucus to become very thick or very thin. Estrogen also appears to cause the turbinates inside of the nose (small, bony structures that hold the mucosa) to become swollen, which can interfere with proper breathing. Similar rhinitis episodes have been documented in women taking the birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy.
Is Pregnancy Rhinitis Dangerous?
Pregnancy rhinitis is not dangerous for you or baby, however, it can make your life uncomfortable. In particular, pregnancy rhinitis tends to affect quality of sleep, which can make you very tired and fatigued. Pregnancy rhinitis can also increase your chances of developing an ear infection or chronic sinusitis.
Treatment for Pregnancy Rhinitis
Unfortunately, treatment for pregnancy rhinitis is not all that effective. Nevertheless, there are some medications that you can use to relieve your symptoms. Be sure you talk to your health care provider before taking any type of medication during pregnancy.
- Nasal Saline Irrigation: This type of treatment uses a saline wash to help remove mucus from the nasal passageways, improving comfort and breathing. Saline washes also help to lubricate the mucosa in the nostrils, allowing them to work more effectively in the future. All you need to do is flush each nostril out with the saline solution. Sterile saline washes are available at your local pharmacy or drugstore.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines help to relieve congestion, sneezing, and a runny nose. The antihistamine chlorpheniramine is safe for use during pregnancy, although you may want to discuss its use with your health care provider beforehand just to be on the safe side.
- Oral Decongestants: Oral decongestants were once avoided during pregnancy for fear that they would cause birth defects in baby. Yet, a new study performed in Sweden suggests that oral decongestants are completely safe, and possibly even beneficial, for moms with pregnancy rhinitis. In the study, women who took oral decongestants throughout pregnancy had children with similar birth defect rates as the general population. However, these women also had significantly reduced rates of preterm birth. You may still want to discuss the use of oral decongestants with your doctor first before using them.
Self Care for Pregnancy Rhinitis
The best treatment for pregnancy rhinitis symptoms is often self care. Here are some things that you can do at home to relieve your discomfort:
- Drink lots of fluids, especially water. Avoid caffeinated beverages, as these can be dehydrating.
- Increase the humidity levels in your home. This will prevent your nose from drying out.
- Avoid environmental irritants, like cigarette smoke.
- Sleep with your head propped up on a pillow.
- Exercise in moderation. Easy exercise can actually help to reduce nasal congestion.
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