Nasal Congestion While Pregnant
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In this article:
- Nasal Congestion Overview
- What Is Pregnancy Rhinitis?
- What Does Pregnancy Rhinitis Feel Like?
- What Causes Nasal Congestion During Pregnancy?
- When Does Nasal Congestion Start In Pregnancy?
- When Does Nasal Congestion Stop During Pregnancy?
- Safe Nasal Congestion Remedies During Pregnancy
- Sinus Relief Medications To Avoid While Pregnant
Nasal Congestion While Pregnant
Once upon a time, you gazed at a stick with two pink lines and envisioned a totally textbook pregnancy. You’d do Pilates (when you remembered), you’d eat kale, you’d get to sleep before 2AM. Bonus points if your adoring photographer captured a sunset behind the three of you.
Then, somewhere between weeks 6 and 8, reality moved on in.
Sure, you were prepared for the puffy ankles and “did I even wash this?” hair. You were even loosely reconciled with the whole hemorrhoids thing (ouch). But a runny nose? Where did that come from?
Surprise: nasal congestion, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis or pregnancy rhinitis, affects up to 1/3 of women during their childbearing years. With it comes sniffling, scratchiness, puffy eyes and more.
Think you have to just suck it up? Don’t worry –– with the information below, you’ve got this! Here’s how to spot nasal rhinitis, what to do about it, and how to breathe easier all pregnancy long.
What Is Pregnancy Rhinitis?
Pregnancy rhinitis involves a number of symptoms that seem very similar to the common cold. However, unlike a cold or the flu, this condition doesn’t generally come with a fever and it isn’t caused by bacteria or a virus.
On the positive side, pregnancy rhinitis isn’t generally dangerous. But it can be very uncomfortable, which leads us to...
What Does Pregnancy Rhinitis Feel Like?
Pregnancy rhinitis symptoms closely mimic the common cold. Symptoms can include:
- Post-nasal drip
- Itchy or watering eyes
- Scratchy or “clogged”-feeling throat
A few lucky women will experience just one or two of the above symptoms. Others will be knocked cold by a combination of most of them. Either way, just like the name (rhinitis) suggests, the nose –– including congestion and dripping –– is the defining factor here when it comes to diagnosis.
What Causes Nasal Congestion During Pregnancy?
Even if you’re never had allergies and you rarely get sick, you may experience allergic rhinitis during pregnancy. What gives?
Actually, medical professionals say it’s all down to a number of changes your body goes through while pregnant.
Changes in the balance of your hormones (estrogen and progesterone both go way up, for example) is one theory. Hormonal balance partially dictates how much mucus you produce, whether pregnant or not. And more mucus means more dripping or congestion.
Increased blood volume may be another factor. Believe it or not, blood volume nearly doubles during pregnancy. Capillaries (including those in the nose and sinuses) can become inflamed as a result.
There’s another factor to consider. If you already ex
perience allergies, “hay fever” or other forms of rhinitis, you may be more susceptible to having the issue amped during pregnancy (sorry, mama).
When Does Nasal Congestion Start In Pregnancy?
Lucky you: along with fatigue, bloating, and a mood that sends your mom, significant other, and the cat running, you might begin to have this symptom as early as 6 weeks gestation (8 weeks after your last period).
There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, however. Medical professionals agree that if going to have pregnancy rhinitis, chances are good that you’ll experience it by 14 weeks gestation. A handful will have an event such as an actual cold or the flu which kicks off pregnancy rhinitis during the second trimester or later.
When Does Nasal Congestion Stop During Pregnancy?
This may be a tough pill to swallow, but there’s currently no medical way to know when pregnancy congestion will clear up for you.
The timing of all this may depend upon why you’re experiencing congestion during pregnancy. For instance, if increased blood volume or hormonal changes are the culprit, you may not clear up until after you deliver. On the other hand, you may have just a few attacks of nasal congestion, then feel fine for the rest of your pregnancy.
Safe Nasal Congestion Remedies During Pregnancy
Before, you reached for your medicine cabinet at the first sign of sniffles. Now that you’re pregnant, there’s more to consider.
Luckily, there are alternatives to Big Pharma if you’re suffering from pregnancy rhinitis. Here are our favorite drug-free tips to tame that annoying drip.
- Nasal Lavage
We know: yuck. But if you’ve ever tried lavage we promise you’ll never go back –– even after pregnancy! That’s because it’s inexpensive, it’s drug-free, and it works. Here’s the deal:
Lavage is also known as nasal irrigation and it involves, believe it or not, pouring or squirting water or non-drug solution into your nose. Relief happens right away and can last a few hours up to a full day.
The two most common ways to use lavage are:
- Over-the-counter saline solutions. Let your doctor recommend one, but the bottom line is that these come in bottles or droppers and are a simple salt and water solution. A pro to OTC saline solutions is that they are small and can be toted along, so they’re always around when you need them. Tip: if you make your own saline solution, keep it refrigerated if possible and toss it out for a fresh batch midway through the day.
- Neti pot. We’ll bet you’ve heard of these and wondered, “What’s with all the excitement?” While we agree that putting a spout in your nostril with your head tipped isn’t exactly “rock on”-worthy, this ancient method really does help. Choose water only (no salt necessary) or use a solution per your OB’s recommendation. Neti pots are generally inexpensive, reusable and easy to keep clean. One drawback is that they’re usually not very portable. Keep your neti pot at home and plan an alternative method when you’re on the go.
- Keep Your Head and Face Elevated
The principle here is simple: gravity is a thing. Therefore, if you keep your head above the level of your knees even when lying down, fluid in your sinuses has the chance to drain.
What we love about this solution is that it’s not only simple, it’s also free. All you need is a pillow or two.
- While lying down to read or use your iPhone, prop your head up with a firm pillow or two.
- At bedtime, make sure you use a pillow that elevates your head slightly. (Don’t go too far overboard on this. Raising the head too far could mean a crick in your neck in the morning or impeded breathing at night. You need just a slight elevation.)
- Amp the Humidity
Warm, moist air can be a huge help toward encouraging fluids to drain away. (That’s why you’ve seen all those vintage pictures of a sick man holding his head over a steaming bowl. Seriously – it’s a “thing.”)
Most doctors don’t recommend that pregnant women hold their heads over a steaming container, however. You could experience dizziness or fainting. Enter atmosphere (room) humidifiers. These don’t have to be expensive, but do invest in one that has high customer ratings. Make sure it’s temperature- and humidity-adjustable so you can get as comfy as possible.
Tip: Keep your humidifier clean –– and we mean really clean. Moist air plus warmth don’t just equal happy sinuses. The combination also created the perfect environment for fungus and bacteria to thrive. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for sanitizing your humidifier regularly.
- Avoid Dairy Foods and Beverages
This one is controversial (we know, we know…keep our hands off your Halo Top), but there’s firm science to back it up. While it’s a myth that dairy actually increases the amount of mucus in your body, dairy can make existing phlegm thicker. That means it could be making your congestion worse.
If you’re on board with trying this tip, start small by giving up dairy products for a week. If you’re breathing more easily at that point, you have your answer.
Either way, don’t panic just yet: pregnancy allergies can be intermittent. You may be able to go back to dairy after your pregnancy.
- Take a Warm (Not Hot!) Bath
This is the same principle as a warming humidifier, and it has the added benefit of being amazingly relaxing. Add a few candles and a cup of warm tea and you’re pretty much in pregnancy nirvana.
However, be careful: pregnant women should never sit or lie in water above 102°F. Limit your soak time to 15 minutes. And make sure there’s someone else in the house in case you get dizzy or feel too hot.
Some women find taking a warm soak at night works beautifully because congestion can often be worse in the evening. Attacking pregnancy congestion in the evening can mean a better night’s sleep. (And who couldn’t use a little more of that?)
- Drink Lots (and Lots and Lots) of Water
The more water you drink, the better your body will be able to push out excess fluid. Staying hydrated is also the ideal solution to a dry, scratchy inner nose.
Don’t overdo it; if you’re getting sick from constantly tipping back that water bottle, or if you can’t make it from one intrusive set of ads to the next without hopping for the bathroom, you’re probably imbibing just a bit too much. Just make sure you’re staying decently hydrated throughout your day.
Sinus Relief Medications To Avoid While Pregnant
We know you already know this, but humor us: drugs are always your last intervention while pregnant.
If you’re really suffering and nothing seems to help, it’s time to ask your OB/gyn what she recommends. But please…never self-treat sinus medications while pregnant except under your doctor’s recommendation.
With that said, here are the top sinus and congestion drugs to avoid. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If you’re considering a sinus medication that’s not on the list, ask your doctor.
- Aspirin (found in brands like Excedrin)
- Brompheniramine (found in brands like Dimetapp)
- Chlorpheniramine (found in brands like Chlor-Trimeton, Advil Allergy & Congestion, Dristan Cold and Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold)
- Naproxen (found in brands like Aleve)
- Phenylephrine and Pseudoephedrine (found in medications like Alka-Seltzer Plus Day, Sudafed, Tylenol Cold and Vicks Dayquil Cold and Flu)
When it comes to pregnancy rhinitis, you don’t have to just suck it up. Try the non-drug remedies we’ve listed to get back on your feet. You’ll be looking (and feeling) more like I Dream of Baby than Zombie Mom in no time.
Remember: while you may have heard “I took Benadryl every night and our Jaxon has an IQ of 158” or “I used the sauna when I was pregnant with you and you turned out fine,” you know better. Safe is always better than sorry when it comes to your little bump-to-be. Try safe, non-drug methods first.
With the smart, safe and doc-sanctioned methods lifted above, you’ll be on your feet and breathing easy in no time. Here’s to your health, mama!
The Mayo Clinic, Cold symptoms: Does drinking milk increase phlegm?, 2019.
UpToDate, Recognition and management of allergic disease during pregnancy, 2018.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Rhinitis as a cause of respiratory disorders during pregnancy, 2013.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Treating allergic rhinitis in pregnancy. Safety considerations, 1999.
- Melanie Henson