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What is pregnancy rhinitis?
Pregnancy rhinitis is congestion or a stuffy nose during pregnancy. It may feel similar to the nasal congestion you get when you have a cold, but this condition is partly caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy. For example, a higher level of estrogen during pregnancy can cause the lining of the nasal passages to swell, producing more mucus. You also have more blood circulating during pregnancy, which can make the tiny blood vessels inside your nose swell and lead to nasal congestion.
Up to 30 percent of pregnant women have pregnancy rhinitis, and it can start as early as your second month, though it tends to get worse later in pregnancy. The congestion should ease up soon after you give birth and be gone completely within two weeks after delivery.
How can I tell if my congestion is pregnancy rhinitis or something else?
If congestion or a runny nose are your only symptoms, then you probably have pregnancy rhinitis. If you have a stuffy nose as well as sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, mild aches and pains, swollen glands, or a fever, then it's more likely you have a cold or another infection.
Keep in mind that sinus infections are more common in pregnancy. Call your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of sinusitis, such as fever, headache, green or yellow mucus, facial pain or pressure (which may feel worse when you bend forward), an ache in the upper jaw, or a reduced sense of smell.
On the other hand, if you have a stuffy or runny nose with watery mucus, along with sneezing and itchy eyes, nose, throat, or ears, then you probably have allergies. Allergies during pregnancy are unpredictable: They may improve or get worse, or you may find that you're sensitive to allergens and other irritants that never bothered you before.
Of course, you won't always be able to tell what's causing your congestion, and it's possible that there's more than one cause. For example, you could have allergies and pregnancy rhinitis.
What is the treatment for pregnancy rhinitis?
To ease congestion and other symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis:
- Drink plenty of hydrating fluids.
- Elevate your head with extra pillows when you lie down to rest or sleep.
- Take a warm shower and linger in the steamy bathroom. Steam is soothing and temporarily relieves congestion. You can also soak a washcloth with hot water, hold it up to your face, and breathe.
- Try saline nose drops or saline nasal spray, available over the counter at drugstores. You should be able to blow your nose more easily about five to 10 minutes after squirting a bit into each nostril.
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom at night to add moisture to the air. (Follow the cleaning instructions that come with your humidifier because it can become a breeding ground for bacteria.)
- Get some mild to moderate exercise which sometimes relieves a stuffy nose. (Don't exercise outdoors on days when there's a lot of air pollution because this may irritate your nasal passages and make congestion worse.)
- Avoid potential irritants, such as cigarette smoke, alcohol, paint and chemical fumes as well as anything else that triggers your symptoms.
What medicine can I take to relieve pregnancy rhinitis?
It's generally best to try to avoid taking any medications during your first trimester because that's when your baby's organs are forming. But if congestion is making you truly miserable, ask your healthcare provider which medicines are safe for you to try. For example, if your provider says it's okay, you can try a decongestant.
But be careful not to overuse nasal spray decongestants because this can actually make your congestion much worse.