During your pregnancy, you might find you are more sensitive to hay fever and other allergies. While they won’t harm you or your baby, they can have an impact on your general wellbeing – giving you a stuffy nose, and causing sneezing or lack of sleep.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is a common condition that affects nearly 1 in every 5 people in Australia. Hay fever is also known as allergic rhinitis, and is often simply called 'allergies'. Symptoms of hay fever include an itchy, runny or blocked nose, sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes.
Despite its name, hay fever is not necessarily triggered by hay and does not cause a fever.
Common causes of hay fever
You may feel the symptoms of hay fever at specific times of the year, when certain triggers, or ‘allergens’, are in the air. This is known as ‘seasonal’ allergic rhinitis. The allergens might include pollens from trees, grasses, weeds, fungi or moulds. If you experience year-round symptoms – known as ‘perennial’ allergic rhinitis – your triggers might include common household allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, fungi or moulds.
Can pregnancy make me more sensitive to hay fever?
Yes – during pregnancy you may find that you are more sensitive to your allergy triggers and that they are more troublesome. While the exact reasons for this are not clear, it may be due to hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, and because during pregnancy your blood volume increases to support your growing baby.
If you do not have a history of allergy or hay fever and suddenly find you have symptoms, see your doctor to check for other conditions that may need to be treated.
Hay fever should not lead to serious breathing difficulties. If you feel you can’t get enough air, your chest feels very tight, you are breathless, or you feel like you’re being suffocated, seek medical advice immediately.
If you have unexplained breathing problems, especially if they are severe and come on quickly, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
Can allergies or hay fever affect my baby?
While hay fever is not dangerous to you or your baby, it can be extremely troublesome.
If your nose is blocked, you may find it more difficult to sleep, which can add to the other reasons for poor sleep during pregnancy.
How can I manage my hay fever while pregnant?
It's important you take special care with your medicines during pregnancy since some may affect your unborn baby.
One way to reduce your need for hay fever medicines, while keeping your baby safe, is to try to avoid any known triggers or allergens. This can be a challenge if you do not know what you are allergic to. Your doctor may refer you to an allergy clinic to help you find out what’s causing your allergy symptoms.
There are allergy medicines that are safe for you to take while you are pregnant, including some - but not all - antihistamine tablets and syrups, eye drops and nasal sprays, including corticosteroids and decongestants.
Your pharmacist or doctor can advise you on what medicines you can take while pregnant to help with your hay fever symptoms while minimising the risk to your baby.
Can I prevent allergies?
While people with allergies cannot prevent the condition, they can try to avoid or reduce exposure to allergens or triggers. Pollen is a common allergen in Australia, and can be hard to avoid, but to minimise your exposure you could try to:
- stay indoors where possible during pollen season, on windy days, or after thunderstorms
- avoid activities that expose you to pollen, such as mowing grass
- shower as soon as you can after you’ve been exposed to pollen
- switch your car air-conditioning setting to use re-circulated air when pollen levels are high
What else could it be?
Symptoms of hay fever are similar to those of the common cold, but unlike a cold, hay fever is not caused by an infection and it is not contagious.
Another common condition in pregnancy is pregnancy rhinitis. Symptoms are very similar to allergic rhinitis but are not associated with an allergic trigger.
People with allergies are also more likely to have asthma. While around 8 in every 10 people with asthma also have allergies, not everyone with allergies has asthma. Symptoms of asthma include wheezing when breathing out (including after exercise), a persistent cough (especially at night), shortness of breath. and chest tightness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, ask your doctor whether it might be asthma.
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Last reviewed: September 2020