Achoooo! Uh-oh, it’s that time of year again — allergy season. From the uncontrollable sneezing and bouts of itchiness to a runny nose and tickly throat, allergies can be extremely irritating, to say the least.
Fortunately, if you’re one of the 50 million Americans who suffer from the condition, there are a number of medications available that may bring some relief — but what if you’re pregnant?
Is Benadryl safe to take during pregnancy? What about Claritin?
You have questions, and we have answers. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about taking allergy medicine while pregnant.
What Exactly Are Allergies?
Allergies are abnormal reactions by the body’s immune system to various foreign substances — aka allergens.
When you come in contact with one of these substances, your immune system treats it as an invader and, as a result, releases chemicals — such as histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes — which can cause a cluster of uncomfortable allergic symptoms.
What Is an Allergic Reaction?
Simply put, an “allergic reaction” is the way your body reacts to an allergen. The severity of your reaction depends on your immune system and how much it deems an allergen a threat.
For example, most people don’t have an immune response to pet dander, but some have an immune system that may perceive it as dangerous, so pet dander is treated as a pathogen.
When those who are allergic to it inhale when breathing, pet dander that was in the air can enter their nasal passages. From there, the pet dander particles stick to mucous membranes, causing irritation and inflammation to the eyes and nose. And for people who experience extreme reactions, their breathing is often affected, and they may even develop asthma.
So, why do some folks have such bad allergies while others don’t, you ask? To be honest, no one knows for sure, but experts say genetics likely play a role.
Some of the most common allergens include:
- Animal dander
- Pollen (Hay fever)
- Bee stings
- Dust mites
- Insect bites (venom)
- Certain drugs, such as penicillin
- Chemicals, including dyes, household cleaners, and pesticides
- Foods, particularly shellfish, peanuts, eggs, wheat, and soy
Can You Get Allergies During Pregnancy?
Yes, you most definitely can develop allergies during pregnancy — especially if you have a history of them. In fact, for those who already have the condition, a bun in the oven can sometimes make allergy symptoms worse.
Every woman’s body is different, and no two pregnancies are alike. It’s difficult to predict exactly how allergies will affect each individual mom-to-be. But in general, your allergy symptoms should be about the same as before you were pregnant.
Some of the most common signs of allergies include:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Scratchy throat
- Watery eyes
In addition, you may have itchy skin after coming in contact with an allergen. Itchiness can be unbearable and often gets itchier when rubbed or scratched. Thankfully, a soothing oatmeal bath can usually do the trick to soothe itchy and irritated skin.
Does Nasal Congestion During Pregnancy Indicate Allergies?
Any seasoned mom will tell you that pregnancy can do weird things to your body, so it can be tough to know if you’re dealing with pregnancy-related symptoms or allergies.
In short, allergies often manifest into cold-like symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, and itchy eyes. So if you’re not plagued by itchiness or a pesky cough, your congestion could be hormone-related, namely due to pregnancy rhinitis. Of course, if you’re not sure, talk to your OB/GYN.
What Allergy Medications Are Pregnancy-Safe?
Pregnant women need to be cautious when taking medications, especially during the first trimester. Check with your OB/GYN before starting any drug, whether prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) or homeopathic medications. The recommendation from your healthcare provider should be the first and final word on any allergy treatment you use.
With that in mind, there is some general advice about allergy meds during pregnancy:
Good news, mama! Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and fexofenadine (Allegra) seem to be A-OK.
In fact, according to a new CDC study, researchers found that most oral antihistamines do not appear to be linked to any congenital disabilities.
While most antihistamines are generally regarded as safe to take during pregnancy, it’s important to be mindful of combination allergy formulas that include other ingredients that may be unsafe for pregnant women — such as decongestants.
Decongestants narrow blood vessels in the nose to help relieve stuffiness and sinus pressure by widening nasal passages. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and Phenylephrine (Suphedrine PE/Sudafed PE) are the most common, but they aren’t considered as safe as antihistamines during pregnancy.
Studies have indicated possible links between decongestant use during the first trimester and congenital disabilities, including:
- Small intestinal atresia
- Hemifacial Macrosomia
- Gastroschisis (an abdominal wall defect)
Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) warn that oral decongestants may also result in vasoconstriction, which can induce maternal hypertension and lead to poor blood circulation from mom to newborn.
After the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, occasional use of these meds may be safe, but be sure to talk with your doctor first — especially if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Only a small amount of the medicine (usually a steroid) found in nasal sprays (or saline sprays), nasal strips, nasal drops, and Neti pots enter the bloodstream, which means they’re unlikely to reach your baby. In fact, pregnant women are usually advised to try this type of allergy treatment before taking an antihistamine tablet.
The nasal sprays that are generally regarded as safe to take during pregnancy include:
- Mometasone (Nasonex)
- Fluticasone (Flonase/Veramyst)
- Budesonide (Rhinocort)
For pregnant women with allergic rhinitis, budesonide nasal spray is a good choice as this drug has quite a bit of research backing its safety. Of all the nasal sprays on the market, Triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ) is the only one that appears to be linked to congenital disabilities and is best to avoid.
Subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy (SCIT) — aka allergy shots — is meant to desensitize so that your immune system doesn’t react as strongly to particular allergens. If you’ve received this type of treatment before pregnancy, it’s generally considered safe to continue treatment.
On the flip side, if you’re new to allergy shots, it’s best to hold off on this type of treatment until after pregnancy due to the risk of anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction).
What Are Tips To Reduce Allergy Symptoms While Pregnant?
When it comes to allergies, the best defense is a good offense. If you want to avoid taking medications during your pregnancy or just want to do everything you can to ease your allergy symptoms naturally, try these alternative remedies listed below:
Change your clothes as soon as possible after spending time outside or coming in contact with allergens. Bathing before hitting the hay can also help relieve nighttime symptoms.
Drink lots of H2O to keep yourself sufficiently hydrated throughout the day. Not only will this help to keep your skin moisturized and itch-free, but studies show that dehydration can influence the body’s natural histamine response — and not in a good way!
Drinking plenty of water will keep the body running as it should and may even help to alleviate allergy symptoms.
Use a humidifier to moisten the air. The extra moisture won’t remove allergens from the environment, but it can help soothe your irritated nasal passages.
If you’re pregnant and dealing with allergies, don’t just suffer through the next nine months in silence, speak up and talk to your healthcare provider. They should be able to steer you in the right direction so you can find relief — safely.
Have more questions? Explore our blog, where you’ll discover guides, tips, tricks, and more to help you feel confident, comfortable, and ready to take on parenthood.
Seasonal Allergies (Allergic Rhinitis) > Fact Sheets | Yale Medicine
Key Findings: Antihistamines and Birth Defects | CDC
Safety of antihistamines during pregnancy and lactation | PMC
Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy | American Family Physician
Safety of intranasal corticosteroid sprays during pregnancy: an updated review | National Library of Medicine