Pregnancy Rhinitis: Sneezing, Sniffing and Congestion

by Pregnancy.org Staff

Sniffles, snorts, sneezes, stuffiness and snot. Do you feel like you have a rotten cold? Many pregnant women suffer from congestion, coughing and a runny nose. These symptoms occur so often they've earned their own name, pregnancy rhinitis!

What Causes Pregnancy Rhinitis?

sneezingWhen there are greater amounts of estrogen and progesterone in your system, it can cause congestion and swelling inside your nose. If you're over producing these hormones, sometimes the condition can prevent you from breathing through your nose! Estrogen affects mucus production, causing it to become thick or very thin. Women taking birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy experience rhinitis, too.

Pregnancy rhinitis is most common in your first trimester but can appear any time during pregnancy. Symptoms include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing, coughing
  • Runny nose (clear or whitish mucus)
  • Sinus pressure and congestion
  • Headaches

The membranes in your nose swell and/or become irritated, causing itching, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes. Oh, and did I mention not being able to breathe? I actually cried yesterday out of frustration. Not being able to breathe can make you go crazy after a while, you know? ~Elisa aka efab

Sinusitis Infection

Sinus infections differ from rhinitis. Headaches, neck aches, facial pain, fevers, pressure worse on one side than other and thick, bad-smelling drainage are signs of a sinus infections. If you're experiencing these, call your provider as soon as you're able. You may need an antibiotic which requires a visit.

Calming Rhinitis

My nose is always a million times worse when I'm pregnant. I have a constantly stuffy nose when I'm not pregnant, but it's double right now! ~Karina aka allie01979

Best Simple Treatments

  1. Elevate your head, especially at night. Sleeping on several pillows or a "wedge" pillow usually helps. When your head's level with your heart, your nose swells more
  2. Run a humidifier; it keeps your throat and mouth from drying out. Keep the filter clean and use distilled water
  3. Use saline sprays, rinses or nebulizers. These help clear mucus and may draw out swelling
  4. Steam from a warm shower or wet, warm cloth over your nose can provide some temporary relief
  5. Avoid environmental irritants like cigarette smoke
  6. Low-impact, moderate exercise helps reduce nasal congestion and rhinitis symptoms and optimizes general pregnancy health (note: remember to discuss any new exercise program with your caregiver!)
  7. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  8. Vitamin D: If you're not in the sun or live in the northern hemisphere, you might not get enough Vitamin D. Some studies suggest a connection between rhinitis and low Vitamin D levels

Medications and Interventions

  1. Rhinocort™ nasal spray (Category B, prescription only) is a slow acting steroid, taking several days or a week to begin working
  2. Vick's vap-o-rub™ is not known to be harmful during pregnancy but hasn't been extensively studied
  3. Antihistamines like benadryl, claritin, allegra, zyrtec (all Category B) reduce inflammation and dry up excess mucus but aren't extremely useful for swelling in nose.
  4. Over-the-counter decongestants containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (both are Category C)
  5. Mucinex (Category C) thins mucus so it's easier for body to clear it out
  6. Oxymetazoline nasal spray (Afrin™, Category C) are fast acting but addictive, so providers suggest limiting use to a couple days

What's the Most Effective "Treatment"?

Birth that baby! We recommend sometime after 39 weeks! Your hormones rapidly level out and you'll notice improvement in a couple days. Rhinitis will be a dim memory in three to four weeks.