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How Allergies Can Affect Your Pregnancy

You have allergies, and you are pregnant. I have good news for you.

Sometimes, after yet another huge list of foods that your year (and country) decides pregnant ladies cannot eat, or after another admonition not to go horseback riding, or after a personal discovery of some aspect of ordinary life with which you now relate differently, it might feel like pregnant ladies have to live by a totally separate set of rules from those that govern nonpregnant people.

Fortunately, there's at least one situation in which this is mostly not true.

Congratulations: if you are pregnant and have allergies, the concerns and methods of treatment are basically the same as they are as if you are not pregnant, although you should discuss all your concerns with your doctor. But as a general rule of thumb, you don't have to learn an entirely new set of responses.

If you already have an inhaler or an Epi-Pen, keep using it. If you already know what triggers your allergies, avoid it. And if something new crops up, get treatment for it. Although they can be irksome when present, the ideology for managing your allergies while pregnant is simple.

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7 Environment

I moved to San Francisco partly because it doesn't make me sneeze. But if you live somewhere that bugs your hay fever, that hay fever might act up more while you're pregnant. Your body is in overdrive, it's feeling protective of itself, and its systems are fully engaged.

It doesn't have time for goldenrod or kudzu or whatever makes your eyes water and your nose run. Take a Claritin, or see your doctor. Wash your face with cool water to get the allergens off when you get home.

What if something at home is making your allergies act up? Just thinking about pet dandruff and cat hair and mysterious laundry detergents makes me psychosomatically sniff and itch in sympathy with you. Sneezing, stuffy nose, hay-fever-like symptoms, or contact dermatitis — your home might distress your newly sensitive body, or exacerbate extant allergies.

Try aHepa filter vacuum cleaner, to suck up the dust and allergens. Try hypoallergenic laundry detergent. Try Ivory soap (as they love to tell you, it's 99.44% pure). Try Sphynx cats, who are essentially hairless.

6 Food

Don't eat foods that trigger your allergies. On the other hand, don't be like theBig Mac Pregnant Lady either, who, rather than risking triggering her food allergies, ate nothing but Big Macs for her whole pregnancy—thus setting her baby up for all kinds of potential long-term disadvantages. The Middle Path is often the best course to steer.

Because bodies are unpredictable, you might become allergic to something you weren't allergic to before. If you suddenly bloom into red blotchy hives, try to list everything you've eaten in the last day or two. You might have a food allergy. It's worth discussing with your doctor, especially if you are not an Old Pro at having hives and they're new for you.

Your doctor could do a prick test on you—basically they run across your back with something that looks like a pizza-slicer, that pricks an evenly-spaced series of minute quantities of potential allergens into your back, and then they wait to see how your back reacts and to which allergens.

You may or may not isolate the cause of your allergies. You can also cut everything in your diet down to just one or two extremely bland foods (something like white rice and bananas) for a couple days and then slowly add recent foods back one at a time, observing any reactions you may have.

If you're suspicious of a multi-ingredient item, say a stew, try re-introducing each ingredient separately. In the meantime, you can use Claritin, cortisone cream, and oatmeal baths for the itching.

5 Asthma And Anaphylaxis

Keep taking your asthma medication. Talk to your GP. Avoid triggers to your asthma — stay inside more, use air conditioning to avoid airborne irritants. Don't go for long romantic hikes through the ragweed, and if you do, bring your inhaler.

If you don't already live in a city with polluted air (for instance, Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Tokyo were all triggers for my asthma), don't move to one and don't holiday in one, for now. If you do live in one, don't go running marathons outdoors.

If you are allergic to bees or have another similar allergy that can lead to anaphylactic shock, for heaven's sake, keep yourEpi-Penwith you and current, don't go frolicking through the clover fields (or don't stuff yourself with peanut satay, if yours is a peanut allergy), and have a talk with your doctor about your pregnancy and your medication.

4 Pregnancy Rhinitis

You might feel like you have hay fever without actually having environmentally-caused hay fever.Pregnancy rhinitis makes you have a stuffy nose, also potentially sneezing, coughing, headache, and stuffy sinus cavities. It is caused by the increased amounts of estrogen and blood in your body swelling up your mucus membranes. It goes away a couple of weeks after you have your baby.

You can take ordinary over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines for pregnancy rhinitis. Nasal saline spray also helps.

Use a humidifier at night (keeping it clean, to avoid breathing bacteria), run yourself warm baths, drink plenty of clear fluids, avoid caffeine, and you can also put your nose over a steaming cup of tea or a steaming tea kettle. These are also ways to deal with ordinary hay fever.

3 Skin Allergies

My heart goes out to you if you're pregnant and you have some kind of skin itchies or rash. I am covered with stress-induced hives right now, thanks to my son coming down with strep throat in the middle of a bunch of life happening, so I empathize with you! Not every itchy blotchy skin thing is caused by what you eat. Mine are often caused simply by stress.

And remember what the doctors themselves said to me when I went to the hospital in Siena, covered with homesickness hives: “con la dermatologia, é sempre un mistero.” With dermatology, it's always a mystery.

Bodies don't always tell you why they're doing what they're doing; sometimes you just have to roll with them and treat the symptoms without understanding the motive for the crime, even though it may go against your preferred philosophy. Skin rashes like hives can take up to six to eight weeks to fully recover.

You should take yourself to the hospital right away, no matter the hour, if you develop hives on your eyes or eyelids or in your throat. But even if they're on more common parts of your body, please take your hives or rash to your doctor. If they're emphatic hives, your doctor may prescribe medication, oral steroids, or an epinephrine shot for you.

Here are some over-the-counter medications and treatments you can use: Benadryl, but watch out because it makes you sleepy. Do not take Benadryl if you are in charge of children, have to drive, do surgery, or operate a back-hoe.

I preferClaritin because, although it doesn't work as forcefully as Benadryl, it doesn't make you sleepy. And there's topical Benadryl cream, or hydrocortisone cream. You can also give yourself soothing oatmeal baths;

Aveeno makes packets you can buy at the drugstore, or you can always grind up your own oats in a coffee grinder or Cuisinart. (If your bath is too warm though it might excite the itchiness; keep it lukewarm.) There's also Calamine lotion to soothe the itching and remind you of your days at summer camp.

2 Old And New Allergies

Now may be your body's favourite time to develop a new allergy. It's under stress, it's on high alert, it's in unfamiliar territory, and all its systems are very busy handling this new situation. So your body is feeling high maintenance, fragile in some ways, and probably has a low tolerance for being tampered with right now.

It is possible that you might be allergic to something while pregnant that ordinarily you wouldn't be, orallergies from long ago may come back to haunt you.

When I had my C-section, my recovery was complicated by my body developing a new severe allergic reaction to the adhesive of the Steri-Strips on my incision, and a separate new severe allergic reaction to the Betadine prep wash they used in the hospital. Right now your body might view even innocuous products as threats that it must ward off.

Get the treatment you need, and remember to list these items on future medical forms, even if you don't think you're allergic to them as a nonpregnant person. Also, during the stress of postpartum, old food allergies from childhood came roaring back to haunt me as if I were six years old all over again. Allergies you may have outgrown might return, so keep an eye on foods that may have been suspicious in your past.

1 Natural Remedies

I have no personal experience with efficacious natural allergy remedies but that's just from a lack of concerted effort on my behalf. Usually when I'm allergic to something I just want the allergy to go away as fast as possible, without introducing something else into my body that may potentially be an aggravating allergen itself, so I use allopathic treatments.

But you are welcome to try natural remedies, provided you discuss them with your doctor. Here are some approaches that have gotten positive results.

Acupuncture has many adherents who say it's useful for allergies, and since I've found acupuncture helpful for many ailments, I say it's worth trying.

Nettle leaf has antihistamine in it, and dried nettle leaf capsules or tinctures can bring allergy relief. Butterbur can be used to relieve hay fever, insomnia, asthma, headaches, and coughs (provided you only buy certified products labelled “PA-free”, i.e., no pyrrolizidine alkaloids, potentially harmful chemicals). 

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