More than 50 million people suffer from allergies every year. So if you’re sneezing a little more than usual these days, you aren’t alone. Given how common allergies are, it’s not surprising that you might be experiencing symptoms during pregnancy. You might be sneezing or have a sore throat or itchy eyes.
You can manage allergy symptoms when you’re pregnant–and get back to enjoying the outdoors–but it does take a little extra thought and attention.
How Common Are Allergies During Pregnancy?
The true source of allergies resides with your immune system. Usually, when your body encounters a disease, your immune system launches into action. But that immune response can cause certain symptoms within your body. When you come down with a common cold, for example, it’s your immune response–not the virus–which causes your runny nose and cough.
When you have an allergic reaction to something, it’s because your body has identified that allergen as a hazard. So your immune system goes into defense mode. Allergic reactions can occur when the allergen is experienced through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation. Common allergens include pollen, pet dander, shellfish, and bee stings.
For pregnant women, allergies during pregnancy are particularly common, even among individuals who have not suffered from long-term allergies in the past. In other words, you can sometimes develop new allergies when you become pregnant. In other cases, allergies that were already present may become worse. Usually, the novel allergies will subside after your child is born, so most of these allergy-related changes are temporary. Conversely, some allergies improve with the reduced immune response.
Types of Allergies
Everybody is unique, and there’s no exception when it comes to allergies. While some types of reactions are more common than others, which allergies you experience (and how your immune response presents) will be unique to you. The most common types of allergies include:
- Pollen Allergies – Sometimes called Hay Fever, allergies to pollen in the air can produce symptoms akin to the common cold, including sneezing and coughing.
- Food Allergies – Food allergies can range from mild to severe. Additionally, not all food must be ingested to cause a reaction. In some cases, topical application of the food can cause reactions as well.
- Drug Allergies – Allergic reactions to drugs and pharmaceuticals can produce a wide range of impacts with varying severity.
- Pet Allergies – Pet dander is a leading cause of allergies. These allergies can sometimes intensify when you’re pregnant.
- Insect Allergies – Insect bites and bee stings can cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals.
- Mold Allergies – Mold spores in the air are usually not uncommon, but some specific types can cause mild to severe allergic reactions.
- Latex Allergies – Some people are allergic to latex, which can then cause skin irritation or other reactions.
What causes one type of allergy or another isn’t particularly well understood. Scientists don’t have a good answer for why one person might develop a pollen allergy and another person might develop a latex allergy. These allergies may also change significantly through your life–or they may remain static.
What Are the Risks of Allergies During Pregnancy?
If you’re pregnant, allergies will generally pose very little risk to you or to your baby. Severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, will generally pose the most significant and severe risk that expectant mothers may need to consider. Anaphylaxis can be treated with an injection of epinephrine (an epi-pen), so it’s usually recommended that you carry one with you should you have known severe allergic reactions.
The two other risks that allergies pose are secondary in nature. Allergies can interfere with your sleep, nutrition, and health. Over long enough periods of severity, such interruptions could start to pose some health challenges. Likewise, there are some allergy medications that can present risks for your infant.
These risks, however, tend to be quite minimal. So assessing these risks will usually be performed on an individual basis, in conversation with your OB GYN or midwife. You can talk about your allergies, how severe those allergies typically become, and what you can do to treat your symptoms. Often, allergies are treated with antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays; while these treatments are usually safe, it’s still recommended that you discuss brand, dosage, and frequency of use with your OB GYN or midwife.
Additionally, you should always communicate any and all allergies to your healthcare providers, especially any drug allergies that you are aware of.
How Do You Treat Allergies While You’re Pregnant?
Many expecting mothers understandably want to avoid taking any medications that they don’t have to. When you’re treating allergies, this isn’t always possible. For example, if you can’t stop sneezing or have frequent headaches because of your allergies, treatment is desirable. After consulting with youR provider, you may try one of the following:
- Prevention: The easiest way to avoid allergies is to stay away from anything that might trigger a reaction–even a mild one. One example would be keeping your dog in another room if you develop an allergy to canine dander. You should also avoid foods or medications that might cause a reaction. If you’re allergic to pollen, you can stay inside and keep the air conditioning running.
- Antihistamines: One of the most common treatments for allergy symptoms–especially those symptoms which resemble cold symptoms. However, not all antihistamines are chemically identical. Some pose fewer risks than others, especially during the first trimester. If you need to take antihistamines to manage your symptoms, make sure you speak to your healthcare provider or OB GYN first.
- Nasal sprays: A common way to treat allergies, nasal sprays are usually quite low risk. If you want to use a saline-based nasal spray, for example, you can do so without reservations. Using a steroid-based spray in accordance with directions is also usually okay. However, as with any medication, it’s a good idea to check with your OB GYN before taking nasal sprays.
In general, pregnant women should avoid the following treatments:
- Decongestants: As a general rule, it is recommended that women avoid taking decongestants while pregnant. Certain decongestants can restrict blood flow to the placenta, which can cause unwanted complications. If you have taken a decongestant already, that’s okay–just be sure to touch base, especially before you take any more.
- Allergy shots: Allergy shots are a common way of controlling allergy symptoms. If you’ve already been taking allergy shots before becoming pregnant, it’s perfectly safe to continue. However, it’s generally recommended that this process not start while you are pregnant–this way your immune system stays as predictable as possible throughout your pregnancy.
Allergies can be a pain, especially when you’re pregnant and your body is a little unpredictable. However, they can be safely treated, so you don’t necessarily have to suffer with your allergies during pregnancy.
At NSAGO we offer comprehensive obstetrics care with OBGYNs and Nurse MIdwives. If you have questions about how you can treat allergy flare ups while you’re pregnant, contact our Wilmette or Glenview offices to schedule an appointment with an OBGYN or midwife.