What Is Pregnancy Rhinitis?

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Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times for many people, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from discomforts. Between morning sickness, swollen ankles, heartburn, and hemorrhoids, expectant parents have lots to complain about.

Most of these conditions and side effects are well known. But there is one pregnancy symptom that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as the others, and is actually quite common—pregnancy rhinitis, or having a stuffy nose during pregnancy.

What Is Pregnancy Rhinitis? 

Pregnancy rhinitis is characterized by having congestion and cold-like symptoms during pregnancy that are not linked to viruses, allergies, or other medical conditions, but which are caused by the pregnancy itself. According to a study published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, pregnancy rhinitis is very common.

Of the 117 pregnant women surveyed in the study, 39% experienced symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis. Although pregnancy rhinitis can happen at any time during pregnancy, it may be most common in the second trimester of pregnancy. Of the 117 moms reporting pregnancy rhinitis symptoms in the study, the majority were in week 13 to 21 of pregnancy.

Causes

Experts aren’t certain what causes pregnancy rhinitis, but point to the hormones of pregnancy, and how they affect the nasal passages, as a potential cause. According to Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, pregnancy rhinitis may be caused by “numerous substances and hormones secreted during pregnancy (PGH, VIP, estrogen, progesterone).”

These hormones and substances cause your nasal passages to secrete more mucus and to experience increased blood flow, both of which can cause symptoms of nasal congestion, nasal irritation, and even clogged ears.

Symptoms

Everyone will experience the symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis a little differently, but the main symptoms are increased mucus in your nasal passages, as well as pressure, and a feeling of being “stuffed up.”

It’s important to remember that pregnancy rhinitis is not just characterized by increased mucus, but also includes increased blood flow to the nasal passages, which is why there is also a feeling of congestion and pressure.

Here are the most common symptoms of pregnancy rhinitis:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Increased mucus
  • Increased nasal congestion
  • Pressure in the ears
  • Sneezing
  • Decreased sense of smell due to congestion
  • Disturbed sleep due to congestion or postnasal drip

How Long Does Pregnancy Rhinitis Last?

Pregnancy rhinitis may come and go during pregnancy, but generally only lasts a few days or weeks at a time. However, some pregnant women experience it steadily throughout pregnancy.

Pregnancy rhinitis symptoms should diminish soon after giving birth, usually within a week or so.

Is It Ever Serious?

Pregnancy rhinitis alone isn’t a serious condition. However, because it can disrupt sleep and decrease your quality of life, it can feel debilitating. Occasionally, pregnancy rhinitis can lead to ear infections, sinusitis, or an exacerbation of asthma symptoms.


Asthma symptoms can become serious and life threatening, so if you are noticing an increase in your asthma symptoms, you should make sure you are taking your asthma medications according to a doctor’s guidelines, and discuss any new or worsening symptoms promptly.

Most pregnant people don’t experience symptoms that disrupt their quality of life or health due to pregnancy rhinitis, but if you do, you should bring this up with a healthcare provider, and talk about ways to safely decrease your symptoms.

How Is Pregnancy Rhinitis Diagnosed?

To diagnose pregnancy rhinitis, a healthcare provider will need to rule out other causes of nasal congestion and irritation first. These include viruses, bacterial infections, and allergies.

They will likely examine you, and ask you a series of questions. If you have never been tested for allergies before, the doctor may perform allergy tests or send you to an allergist for further testing.

Once all other causes of rhinitis are ruled out, you will likely be diagnosed with non-allergic rhinitis—in this case, pregnancy rhinitis. Don’t worry, this is something healthcare providers see very often. They will likely not be alarmed, and will simply discuss safe and gentle ways to treat your symptoms.

Treatment

For many pregnant people, pregnancy rhinitis is just an annoyance, as well as something that may feel worrisome.

If your congestion isn’t impacting your sleep or quality of life, there is nothing more you need to do. Pregnancy rhinitis isn’t usually a highly concerning symptom, and there is no need for intervention if the condition is not bothering you.

However, if your symptoms are impacting your life in any substantial way, you should talk to a doctor about possible treatments. Some of these treatments may include:

  • Using a humidifier in your home
  • Keeping yourself well hydrated
  • Steering clear of any nasal irritants, such as cigarette smoke or excessive pollution
  • Exercising regularly (to decrease congestion symptoms and increase your quality of sleep)
  • Elevating your head while sleeping or reclining—sometimes just an extra pillow or two will do the trick
  • Considering nasal strips, saline spray/drop, or other nasal irrigators; always discuss these interventions with a healthcare provider being trying them.

Over-The-Counter Nasal Decongestants

Most nasal decongestants are not considered safe during the first trimester of pregnancy. After that, nasal decongestants may be used sparingly, and always under the advisement of a doctor.

In some cases, using nasal decongestants to treat pregnancy rhinitis actually may make symptoms worse, especially if used for a prolonged period.

A Word From Verywell

If you have been blessed with an incredibly stuffy nose during pregnancy, you are definitely not alone! It’s a very common, and sometimes extremely annoying condition. You should be assured that in most cases, it’s nothing serious, and is usually something that passes on its own, as is the case with most irritating pregnancy symptoms.

However, if your symptoms are intense, seem to come on suddenly, and are accompanied by any other worrying symptoms, you should speak to a healthcare provider.

Pregnancy rhinitis is not something you should diagnose on your own. In some cases, your stuffy nose and congestion point to something more concerning like a respiratory infection, allergies, or an asthma flare-up, all of which should be taken seriously and treated properly during pregnancy.

Finally, pregnancy rhinitis is not something you should just suffer through. If your symptoms are interfering with your sleep or impacting your day-to-day life, talk to a healthcare provider about safe and effective ways to treat the issue so you can start feeling better.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family 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.
  1. Dzieciolowska-Baran E, Teul-Swiniarska I, Gawlikowska-Sroka A, Poziomkowska-Gesicka I, Zietek Z. Rhinitis as a cause of respiratory disorders during pregnancy. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2013;755:213-220.

  2. Dzieciolowska-Baran E, Teul-Swiniarska I, Gawlikowska-Sroka A, Poziomkowska-Gesicka I, Zietek Z. Rhinitis as a cause of respiratory disorders during pregnancy. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2013;755:213-220.

  3. Powell H, Murphy VE, Hensley MJ, Giles W, Clifton VL, Gibson PG. Rhinitis in pregnant women with asthma is associated with poorer asthma control and quality of life. The Journal of Asthma. 2015;52(10):1023-1030.

  4. Nationwide Children’s. Pregnancy Rhinitis. Updated April 12, 2016.

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