Are decongestants safe during pregnancy?

Allergies plague many of us every year. In fact, one in five adults suffers from allergies. Allergens are often called hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, and the most common symptoms are sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose and itchiness in the mouth, throat, eyes or ears. Allergies often do not stop when women become pregnant; the question of whether the use of decongestants are safe during pregnancy is often an unclear answer to many women suffering from allergies.

Decongestants are medications that help shrink the blood vessels in the nasal membranes, allowing air passages to open. Congestion begins once blood vessels in the membrane of the nose and air passages become dilated, swollen or expanded. The membranes have a large capacity for expansion, which means they can have an abundant supply of blood vessels. This can allow the membranes to become engorged and cause congestion in the nose, sinuses or chest.

Over-the-counter decongestants are, for the most part, safe during pregnancy, physicians advise. Most decongestants do not contain enough medication to cause problems with baby, especially if used for short periods. Nasal spray decongestants are even safer since the medication is almost entirely absorbed within the nose and does not travel through the body. As a general rule, physicians advise patients if they can buy it without visiting the pharmacy counter, short-term use will not harm the baby during pregnancy. 

Many health care providers recommend using medication that is considered a Category B drug, such as a decongestant or an antihistamine when allergies strike. Category B drugs have been shown through animal testing to not harm an unborn baby when the mother takes the medication during pregnancy. If a runny nose is more of a problem than a congested one, antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, loratadine or cetirizine are all safe to take during pregnancy.

However, there are also other health considerations when starting a new medication. As with any new medication, patients should discuss possible side effects with their health care provider, prior to taking it. Some decongestants, especially ones that contain pseudoephedrine, can cause elevations in blood pressure, so patients with chronic or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure should stay away from those medications. Other treatments that can help with nasal congestion include vapor rub, humidifiers (especially during dry winters) and saline nasal sprays. Physicians caution against using nasal pot during pregnancy, as the nasal flushing can strain an already weakened immune system.

The best solution is to avoid exposure to triggers in allergies, use over-the-counter nasal spray to ease nasal dryness, bleeding or congestion, include physical activity in a daily routine to reduce nasal inflammation, as well as trying over-the-counter nasal strips at night to keep nasal passages clear while sleeping.

Allergies can be uncomfortable and, often times, unbearable, and, although much of the advice regarding the use of decongestants while pregnant remains muddled, most doctors agree you should contact your individual physician before beginning the use of any medication that treats allergies. Only your physician will be able to assess individual risks and determine the safest decongestant or method of treatment to relieve allergy symptoms.

To find a Utica Park Clinic provider near you, please call 918-579-DOCS (3627) or click here.