Sometimes it seems like everything bothers you a little bit more when pregnant, and allergies are no exception. Stuffy noses and sinus headaches happen more frequently when pregnant and they can be caused by allergies or by a common condition called pregnancy rhinitis.
Allergies can be seasonal or environmental - things like dust, mold, pollen, and even fire or cigarette smoke can trigger an allergic response in the body. Common symptoms include sneezing, coughing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy or watery eyes, fatigue, headaches, wheezing, itching. Pregnancy rhinitis is a term used for a collection of symptoms that result from increased blood flow to many of the mucous membranes, including your nose. The swelling in the nasal passages can cause similar symptoms to allergies like nasal congestion and watery drainage.
But since some of these symptoms can be more intense in pregnancy and many common remedies aren’t necessarily safe for mama and baby, we wanted to share some ways to help manage and mitigate symptoms to help you stay as comfortable as possible. Here are seven tips for dealing with pregnancy rhinitis and seasonal allergies.
Avoid allergen triggers
If allergies are the cause of your symptoms, try to separate yourself from your triggers. This might mean staying indoors and keeping windows closed when the allergy report in your area is high (you can generally check your local weather or a site like pollen.com). Or maybe you need to wear a mask while taking care of dust or pet hair in your home to give yourself a fresh start.
You might also consider an air filter in your home that filters common allergens out of your space. You can use a portable unit in your living space or a filter installed directly into your HVAC system.
Finally, certain foods can promote inflammation and mucous production. If allergies or congestion are bothering you, try avoiding dairy products, refined grains, and sugar. Note, dairy can be a big contributor to calcium needs in pregnancy, particularly in the second half as baby’s skeleton is developing. Therefore, pulling dairy long-term isn’t recommended unless recommended by your doctor or midwife, or unless you’re certain you’re meeting your calcium needs (1,000mg/day) through other foods.
Use nasal sprays and washes
Saline nasal sprays and washes, like the neti pot, can help to loosen congestion and keep your nasal passages moist, and they’re perfectly safe in pregnancy. If you use a neti pot, make sure that the water is distilled and as sterile as possible (many suggesting boiling and cooling the water prior). Tap water can contain things like chlorine and fluoride and can actually aggravate your sinuses, so it shouldn’t be used. (Find out exactly what’s in your tap water on the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database.)
Nasal sprays with xylitol (like Xlear) are safe in pregnancy and have been studied and found to be more effective than saline alone in helping to break up congestion. Nasal strips (like Breathe Right) can also help open up the nasal cavities and alleviate congestion.
Try supportive herbs and spices
While you do have to be careful with certain herbs in pregnancy, some herbs can be soothing and supportive of congestion and other symptoms. Herbs can be steeped in a tea or in a bowl with boiling water that can be used as a steam. To steam, steep the herbs like you would for tea, hold your head above the bowl and inhale gently. You can cover your head with a towel to intensify the effect a bit.
Ginger is one option with a wide range of benefits. It’s a natural antihistamine, potent antiviral agent, and immune booster. You can boil a fresh knob of ginger and add lemon and local honey (see below!) as you like, or you can dissolve ½ teaspoon of the dried form (note: the dried form can actually be a bit more potent and spicy than fresh ginger). You can also pair ginger with other supportive and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, like turmeric and cinnamon (or try our Golden Milk for Mama!).
Peppermint is another herb that can be soothing to the throat and nasal passages when you sip in and steam it.
Finally, garlic is a natural antibiotic that can help fight infections, viruses, and even allergies. The benefits are most potent with fresh raw garlic. Try it in homemade salad dressing or add it to a sauce just before serving.
Use a humidifier
While it won’t remove allergens from the environment, using a humidifier in your home can help moisten the air which can help soothe irritated nasal passages. However, humidifiers can also harbor mold and germs, so clean it often or choose one that is designed to help prevent mold growth (we like Canopy).
Try raw local honey
Local raw honey has been shown to be effective at reducing allergies and boosting immunity. This is because the bees living in your area go from flower to flower collecting the same pollen that you are suffering from. Small exposures (about 1 tbsp. daily) through local honey can help build up a tolerance, and are perfectly safe during pregnancy.
In fact, the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology published a study that tested how pre-seasonal use of birch pollen honey affected people with birch pollen allergies. They discovered that patients taking honey reported a 60 percent lower total symptom score, twice as many asymptomatic days, and 70 percent fewer days with severe symptoms.” The patients taking honey also ended up using 50 percent fewer antihistamines compared to the control group that took conventional meds. Based on this research, it’s recommended to start consuming local honey daily prior to an anticipated seasonal allergy spike in your area, but taking honey during an outbreak may still confer some benefits. The people in the study started approximately 4 months prior to the onset of spring allergies.
You can often find local honey at your local farmers market or natural foods store.
Take apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has antiviral and antibacterial properties and can help break up congestion. Try mixing a tablespoon in a glass of water and add some local honey if you like to sweeten it up. You can also include it in salad dressings and sauces to tone down the taste a bit. As an added bonus, apple cider vinegar can help with heartburn, another common pregnancy symptom.
Engage in moderate exercise
Getting moving while you're feeling clogged up might not sound fun, but research suggests that moderate exercise can actually help relieve nasal congestion. Of course, exercise should be done indoors if outdoor allergens are playing a role.
Elevate your upper body for sleep
Elevating your upper body while you sleep can help to reduce nasal airway resistance. You can use a wedge pillow or several bed pillows and aim for about a 45-degree angle.
Be smart about safe medications
Many mamas don’t love the idea of taking medication while pregnant, but if nothing else works and you want to, here’s what’s generally considered safe. Of course, always ask your doctor or midwife before taking any of these - they know you, your body, and your pregnancy better than we do!
Steroid nasal sprays like Nasonex® or Flonase® are considered safe if simple saline sprays are not doing the trick. Claritin®, Zyrtec®, and Benadryl® are also considered safe, but know that the active ingredient in Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may decrease milk supply, so use caution if breastfeeding).
There are also some more natural options for medications, like this herbal blend from Hilma or the bee-based products from Beekeeper’s Naturals. Of course, like most products, these brands always recommend checking with your doctor or midwife before using them in pregnancy, and we recommend the same.
We know firsthand that allergies in pregnancy and pregnancy rhinitis can be a real pain to deal with. We hope you feel armed with a few new tools in your toolbox the next time symptoms hit!