Many pregnant women know the feeling of a stuffy nose, itchy eyes and post-nasal drip that seem to come out of nowhere during pregnancy. While it's not a life-threatening medical condition, pregnancy rhinitis can be very troublesome — so what can you do to find some relief?
What is pregnancy rhinitis?
Symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis are similar to those of allergic rhinitis ('hay fever') and include a runny, itchy or congested nose, sneezing and watery eyes. While it might feel like you are getting a cold, pregnancy rhinitis is not associated with bacterial or viral infection and is therefore not contagious.
What causes pregnancy rhinitis?
Rhinitis is an inflammation of the lining of the nose. Women who are affected by allergies are likely to also experience similar symptoms during pregnancy. In these circumstances, symptoms are triggered by one or more allergens that may be seasonal (such as, pollens, fungi or moulds) or perennial, or year-round, such as dust mites, pets or cockroaches.
Rhinitis in pregnancy may also have a non-allergic origin. It's not known exactly why rhinitis occurs more frequently in pregnancy, but some researchers suggest that the larger blood volume and hormonal influences increase the likelihood of rhinitis by 10 to 30%.
Smoking is associated with pregnancy rhinitis, and it's never too late for pregnant women – and their partners – to quit smoking.
How is pregnancy rhinitis diagnosed?
Pregnancy rhinitis should be distinguished from other conditions such as infections, and your doctor can do this during a routine visit. X-rays and blood tests are usually not required to diagnose pregnancy rhinitis.
Pregnancy rhinitis should not cause significant breathing problems. If you feel you can't get enough air, your chest feels very tight, you are breathless or feel like you're being suffocated it might be a sign of a medical problem.
If you have unexplained breathing problems, especially if they are severe and come on quickly, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
How long will my 'stuffy' nose last?
While pregnancy rhinitis can occur at any time during pregnancy, it is most common during the first trimester. Symptoms may last for at least 6 weeks, but the good news is they usually disappear within 2 weeks after your baby's birth.
How is pregnancy rhinitis treated?
If your pregnancy rhinitis is triggered by a known allergen, you can try and avoid or limit your exposure.
Nasal irrigation is a drug-free technique to clear out air-borne allergens and mucus from blocked nostrils.
Using sterile salt water (saline) and a squirt bottle, spray solution into one nostril and let it drain out of the other nostril. This can provide relief and is a good solution during pregnancy.
Persistent symptoms can be managed individually. For example, if you have itchy-watery eyes, there are certain eye drops that are approved for use during pregnancy. Similarly, specific nasal sprays and antihistamines can be used, but always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine while pregnant.
Is there an impact on my unborn baby?
Many women with pregnancy rhinitis deliver healthy babies. However, any condition that reduces a pregnant mother's sleep has the potential to impact on her baby. Symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis are especially felt at night, making it difficult to fall asleep, causing women to wake up frequently through the night and be sleepy during the day. Breathing through the mouth due to a blocked nose may increase the likelihood of airway infections.
There are insufficient studies to fully understand the impact of these on the growth and development of unborn babies. If you are concerned about your sleep or breathing during pregnancy, speak to your doctor to find the best way to clear your breathing passages and get proper sleep.
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Last reviewed: January 2020