Pregnancy Rhinitis

Pregnancy Rhinitis is also known as nasal congestion in pregnancy.

Why do I feel congested all the time?

Women who suffer from nasal congestion or a runny nose during pregnancy, also referred to as rhinitis of pregnancy, can find it difficult to breathe comfortably. They may have trouble sleeping due to the congestion, which can also lead to severe headaches in some cases. I was amused when a few years ago while researching medical documents for this I came across the following statement:

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent pregnancy rhinitis – the only cure is childbirth.

Well, in Natural Therapies we simply know that this not true. There are homeopathic remedies, vitamins and safe herbs you can take to ease symptoms and eliminate this problem.

What causes pregnancy rhinitis?

Pregnancy rhinitis occurs when the nasal passages become inflamed and irritated during the time a female is pregnant, usually (but not always) in the first trimester. This is mainly due to hormonal changes that pregnancy is accompanied with. The placenta produces large quantities of estrogen during pregnancy, and estrogen can increase mucus production and also cause the interior of the nose to become swollen. In addition, the amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy, which may cause swelling in the tiny blood vessels in the lining of your nose and congestion in the surrounding tissue. Other hormones may also play a role. Pregnant women who suffer from nasal congestion typically complain of sneezing, persistent coughing, nasal itching and congestion.

How common is pregnancy rhinitis?

This is a lot more common that people think. I have seen cases where the female was not aware of the condition and thought that they had a sinus problem and tried to counteract this with oral degongestants. This is in my opinion quite dangerous as while there are some studies that indicate that these medications are safe, there are also studies that indicate they can cause birth defects. One could say that the jury is still out on this – however I would never advise my clients to take even the slightest chance; the life they are carrying is too precious and deserves the absolute best chance and care without compromise and without taking any risks. According to a 2007 study included in the Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology Journal, it is estimated that about 20%of pregnant women suffer from rhinitis symptoms each year. Women who suffer from severe nasal congestion during pregnancy can find it difficult to breathe on a daily basis. When congestion is also accompanied by post-nasal drip, a pregnant woman can suffer from persistent coughing and gagging episodes while sleeping.

How long does pregnancy rhinitis last?

Severe pregnancy rhinitis can last for as little as six weeks or for an entire pregnancy. It can occur at any time during a woman’s pregnancy, although it is most common to first notice signs of rhinitis in the first trimester when hormone and progesterone levels are rapidly increasing. While the duration varies considerably between individuals, there is much natural therapies can do to treat or at least relieve some of the symptoms to a great extend.

In cases where no Naturopathic treatment is provided, the problem subsides 2-3 weeks after delivery of the baby.

Treatment at home:

Treatment at home is not as effective as seeing an experienced Naturopath, however there are some measures you can take at home to help until your visit to your health provider or if a visit to your Naturopath is not possible:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of spring/filtered water
  • Use a humidifier to increase humidity levels at night
  • Raise your head in bed with an additional pillow – an increase in height of your head in your sleeping position of about 100-150 cm I would suggest.
  • Have some mild regular exercise.

A word of caution:

Make sure that you visit an experienced Naturopath that has good knowledge and has treated this condition before. Pregnancy rhinitis is NOT the same as sinusitis or rhinitis that occurs outside pregnancy and treatment is definitely different. In addition, you need to make absolutely certain that anything you take is absolutely safe for your pregnancy. There are herbs that should not be taken during pregnancy and vitamins (Vitamin A for example) that should be taken in the appropriate dosage, as they have been linked to birth defects and other problems.

Your Naturopath can guide you to ensure anything you take is absolutely safe and effective for your treatment.

Is it pregnancy rhinitis?

There are many symptoms that can resemble pregnancy rhinitis and proper monitoring will reveal the nature of the issue. If for example you have body aches or fever, then these may be symptoms of the flu, not just pregnancy rhinitis. This is why we need to evaluate cases separately for every individual and at different times depending on the presenting symptoms.

Should I have treatment?

We are discussing of course Naturopathic treatment here. My answer is a definite yes for the following reasons:

  • Rhinitis affects the heart and the brain, and leads to the problems with arterial tension. As we are also aware that high blood pressure is a possibility during pregnancy, treatment is advised to help prevent this.
  • The nose itself stops performing its most important functions: it does not any longer warm the inhaled air and does not protect the lungs from the hazardous influence of the environment. This has issues not only for the pregnant woman, but also for the development of her future baby.
  • Approximately in the middle of pregnancy women tend to have nasal obstruction. Some women experience such strong nasal obstruction that the condition often requires medication (non Naturopathic). Vasoconstricting nasal drops are most often used, and the women become “addicted” to them during their pregnancy. Even after the childbirth it is difficult to stop taking the drops without the problem re occurring. The majority of medicines penetrate through the placenta, which is why they are not safe for the baby. Moreover, some of them (including the majority of nasal drops) have important warnings. Just read the label that comes with the medicine. It is therefore prudent to give preference only for the natural and safe methods of treatment.

Even if the Naturopathic treatment is not 100% successful, symptoms at least will be milder and less or no medical treatment will be required, avoiding further complications as well as making the person more comfortable.