OK, you’ve given up coffee, you’re bypassing sushi and you’re avoiding your favorite blue cheese, but come on, are you really supposed to spend all allergy season with your head pounding, your eyes running and your nose pouring like a faucet?
Not exactly, say the experts, but don’t expect to be able to treat your allergies the way you have in the past. This allergy season you’ll have to kick your chemical relief to the curb for something that won’t pose a danger to your baby. And it may be a tough season, too—pregnancy affects the impact that allergens have on you, so don’t be surprised if you find that your allergies seem worse. “Estrogen can cause swelling of nasal passages and increased mucus production. So sometimes when a woman feels her allergies are acting up, it may actually be a response to the hormones of pregnancy,” explains Michelle Collins, nurse-midwife and nursing instructor at Vanderbilt University.
The best way to treat allergies when you’re pregnant is to avoid allergens. If you’re susceptible to pollen, Collins recommends avoiding prolonged time outdoors, especially between 5 and 10 a.m. when pollen counts are highest. For other common allergens, like dust mites, limit your exposure by filtering out as much as you can. “Special dust-mite casings can go around the mattress and box springs and your pillows, and all bedding should be laundered weekly. Also, use a filtered vacuum bag when cleaning the house to help limit exposure to stirred-up dust,” advises Collins. Additionally, cigarette smoke tends to agitate allergies so stick to smoke-free areas when you can.
While these preventative measures are helpful, sometimes you just need some relief. Ideally, you should avoid taking drugs for allergies while you’re pregnant, but luckily there are a number of non-drug options available for allergy relief. If your ob gives you the go ahead, you can moisturize and alleviate irritated nasal passages with a saline spray or nasal irrigation. You can also combat allergy symptoms by sleeping with a humidifier next to your bed and by drinking lots of fluids. “Drinking plenty of water helps to aid in the thinning of the mucus inside nasal passages, which aids in ease of breathing,” says Collins. “Getting proper rest, nutrition and exercise is always beneficial as well.”
If you must take medication, talk to your ob—you need her approval before taking any medication, even if it’s over-the-counter. Your ob will only recommend chemical allergy relief if you’re really suffering, and even then he’ll only deem a small group of allergy treatments safe for your baby. Fortunately, figuring out which allergy drugs are safe is pretty easy thanks to the Food and Drug Administration’s pregnancy-safety labeling. The FDA labels drugs as Category A, B, C, D or X, A being the safest and X being the most dangerous to your baby. Only under extreme circumstances will your ob recommend anything riskier than Category B drugs.
Sadly, most decongestants fall into category C so your doctor will probably prohibit them, and you’ll just have to settle for safer options. Fortunately though, if your pre-pregnancy allergy relief included regular injections and you never had a negative reaction to them, continuing the shots during your pregnancy is fine. If you haven’t had an allergy shot before, though, you could risk a reaction that might affect your pregnancy. You should also put off allergy testing until after you’ve given birth.
The bottom line is that this spring, you need to be cautious when seeking out chemical allergy relief and ought to give a natural approach to easing the symptoms a try. After all, it’s just a few months of sniffling and sneezing compared to a lifetime of motherhood, so we think you can handle it.