Congestion and Other Nasal Symptoms During Pregnancy

It is common to feel more congested during pregnancy. This condition is sometimes referred to as pregnancy rhinitis or non-allergic rhinitis. Pregnancy rhinitis is congestion or a stuffy nose that starts during pregnancy, isn't linked to an infection or allergy, and lasts for at least six weeks.

If you had underlying conditions such as asthma or allergies prior to becoming pregnant, you may find that their symptoms get worse during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester.

Nasal symptoms caused by pregnancy typically resolve within about 10 days after you have your baby.

Pregnant woman blowing her nose in bed
baona / Getty Images 

Rhinitis of Pregnancy

To be considered true rhinitis of pregnancy, no other known causes such as allergies or an upper respiratory infection can be causing your symptoms. Symptoms of rhinitis during pregnancy include:

Studies have shown that pregnancy-related nasal congestion can decrease the quality of life in people who are pregnant. In severe cases, it can be dangerous for the fetus (particularly if the pregnant person has underlying asthma).

Some research suggests that approximately 39% of people who are pregnant experience nasal congestion and other symptoms of rhinitis.

The cause of pregnancy-induced nasal symptoms is not entirely understood but has long been thought to be caused by changing hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone.

This theory might be supported by the fact that some people report nasal symptoms which coincide with their menstrual cycles. Symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis have also been reported with the use of birth control pills.

Managing Congestion

Congestion can lead to more serious conditions such as sinus infections or ear infections, which need to be treated with antibiotics. Keeping congestion under control can prevent these infections.

Nasal irrigation with a neti pot is the first-line treatment. Be sure to use distilled or boiled (and cooled) water rather than water that is straight from the tap.

Some tips for managing congestion during pregnancy include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier by your bed when you sleep
  • Participating in light exercise (but you should not engage in new types of exercise while pregnant without prior approval from your healthcare provider)
  • Keeping the head of your bed elevated with an extra pillow or a wedge
  • Using a saline nasal spray to keep secretions thin
  • Avoiding known allergy triggers, polluted air, chemicals, or cigarette smoke

Medications for More Severe Cases

If the measures above are not sufficient to keep your symptoms under control, you can talk to your healthcare provider about using one or more of the following medications, which may help you manage more severe cases of pregnancy rhinitis.

Nasal (Inhaled) Corticosteroids

Inhaled nasal corticosteroids are often used to control asthma during pregnancy. They may be used in some cases to control pregnancy-induced nasal symptoms.

The first choice is Rhinocort (budesonide), as studies show it is generally safe to use during pregnancy. However, if budesonide is not effective other nasal corticosteroids may be used.

Nasal Decongestants

Most nasal decongestants are not considered safe during the first trimester of pregnancy. 

Nasal decongestants such as Afrin (oxymetazoline) are very effective at temporarily relieving congestion. However, they should be used sparingly if at all during pregnancy and not during the first trimester, as animal studies have shown potential risks to the fetus.

In some cases, using nasal decongestants to treat pregnancy rhinitis actually may make symptoms worse, especially if used for a prolonged period. Using nasal decongestants for more than three days in a row can lead to rebound congestion.

To avoid unnecessary risk to your baby, do not use any new medication, whether available by prescription or sold over-the-counter—such as herbal supplements, homeopathics, and other dietary supplements—without specific approval from your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

While the idea of using any medication can be frightening for many pregnant women, you must remember that leaving your symptoms untreated can lead to other more serious conditions that may pose a threat to your baby's health. Therefore, pregnancy rhinitis should always be reported to your healthcare provider so that symptoms can be properly managed.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Pregnancy and allergies.

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