Pregnancy and allergies

Dealing with the symptoms of allergies can be irritating and unpleasant for most people but when pregnant, allergies can sometimes worsen. We spoke to Lindsey McManus, Deputy Chief Executive of Allergy UK on how allergies can affect pregnancy.

Pregnancy allergy

How can having an allergy affect pregnancy?

Allergic symptoms and reactions can change during pregnancy. Some women find being pregnant reduces their symptoms, while others find they increase. This is thought to be due to the changing levels of hormones in the body. Tell your midwife about any allergies you have when you book your appointment and ask for these to be recorded on any other medical notes and records during your pregnancy. If you do have an increase in the symptoms of your allergy, visit your GP for advice.

In 2009, the Government revised its advice about eating peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding and the first few years of life, in relation to the risk of developing peanut allergy in childhood. Until then, women had been advised to avoid peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding if there was a family history of allergy. The new advice is that you can eat peanuts or foods containing peanut as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them. This applies during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Can a pregnant woman take anti-histamines?

While generally it is advised to avoid taking any medication while pregnant this is simply not practical for many allergy sufferers. Anti-histamines bought over the counter on pharmacists’ advice, or prescribed by a doctor, are a huge source of relief for many. If you cannot take your usual medication, there are plenty of treatments available that relieve most allergy symptoms and are safe to take during pregnancy. For example, Sodium Cromoglycate eye drops or nasal balms. It is important you check with your GP or allergy specialist for advice on all medication you can take during pregnancy including medication for allergy.

Are there other ways of safely combating the symptoms of allergies?

The most important advice for pregnant women is to take care of their general health and eat a healthy, balanced diet. A good supply of fresh fruit and vegetables should be eaten throughout pregnancy to ensure you are getting adequate vitamins and minerals.

If you have a diagnosed food allergy, or are excluding foods due to a food intolerance, you should ensure that you are getting the required nutrients while you are pregnant by checking with your GP or midwife. You can ask to be referred to a dietician for further support.

The most effective way to manage your symptoms (whilst pregnant and otherwise) is to eliminate or reduce the levels of the allergen in your surrounding environment, or minimise contact with it. There are lots of practical steps you can take if you react to allergens such as food, pollen, pets or house dust mites. For avoidance steps on a particular allergen, you can download a fact sheet on Allergy UK’s website: www.allergyuk.org or call our national helpline on 01322 619898.

How can anaphylactic shock affect a pregnant woman?

The most severe form of allergy, anaphylaxis, can cause swelling of the lips, tongue or face, shortness of breath, throat constriction, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness and can be life threatening. Other symptoms can include rashes, generalised swelling, vomiting and asthma. The symptoms of anaphylactic shock do not differ when you are pregnant.

How can a woman avoid an allergy attack throughout pregnancy?

If you are at risk of serious symptoms related to food allergy, latex, wasp and bee stings you may have an adrenaline device for emergency situations. It is important you discuss the use of this during pregnancy with your allergist and follow their advice.

If you have a severe allergy you must let people know about this. Reactions to latex are normally avoidable, although in medical settings latex can be found in gloves and medical equipment. It is vital, therefore, to make sure that medical staff know if you have such an allergy.

It is essential for women with food or drug allergies to have this clearly marked on their handheld pregnancy records. These records should be carried with them in the event of an unexpected trip to hospital. Wearing medical alert jewellery is also a good idea for pregnant women if they are at risk of a severe allergic reaction to inform hospital staff about their allergy in an emergency situation. Details of how to obtain medical alert jewellery can be found by contacting Allergy UK’s helpline on 01322 619898.

Photography: Erika @Flickr

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