Are hay fever remedies and antihistamines safe in pregnancy?

Can I use nasal sprays, eye drops, and antihistamines such as Piriton (cetirizine) in pregnancy?


In a nutshell

It depends on the medicine, so speak to your GP. The main thing is, don’t buy anything over the counter without speaking to your doctor first.


The expert view

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people suffers at some point from hay fever. If you’re one of them and you’re pregnant, then (yep, you guessed it) pregnancy hormones in your body may make your symptoms worse than normal.

If you’re really suffering, the best thing to do is talk to your GP.  If your doctor thinks your hay fever symptoms need treatment, you’ll usually be advised to try a nasal spray, nose drops or eye drops first.

“In pregnancy, the first treatment for hay fever is with a steroid nasal spray as opposed to an oral antihistamine,” says our expert GP Dr Philippa Kaye.

GPs may recommend:

  • corticosteroid nasal spray – such as Flixonase, Beconase or Nasonex
  • antihistamine nasal spray – also known as Rhinolast
  • antihistamine eye drops – such as Otrivine or Optilast

These medicines help unblock your nose and sinuses by reducing inflammation.

So, I can’t take antihistamines if I’m pregnant?

Only with your doctor’s explicit approval. “If the nasal sprays don’t work, then, after discussion and depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, your doctor may agree to antihistamines,” says Dr Kaye. “These include cetirizine and loratadine, which many doctors consider are suitable for use during pregnancy.”

We have to say though, listening to our mums on our forum, there are plenty of doctors out there who are not all are comfortable prescribing antihistamines to pregnant women.

“I went to docs today. I normally take cetirizine and was told to avoid it during pregnancy,” shares mummypiglit. “The doctor was very reluctant to give me anything. I was finally prescribed Opticrom eye drops and Rynacrom nasal spray.”

Although there is still some uncertainty around antihistamine use in pregnancy, as no large-scale studies have been able conclusively to find they are safe, they may be recommended if things are really bad.

In an academic review of the use of antihistamines in pregnancy (2012), published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, researchers point out that no antihistamines have formally been categorised as safe during pregnancy. This doesn’t mean they are a complete no-go, they say, but does mean “a careful risk/benefit assessment should be done before prescribing them”.

A case in point here might be the sedating antihistamine Piriton (chlorphenamine). It’s often considered OK to take during early and middle pregnancy but is generally not recommended when you’re close to giving birth, as it’s been linked to issues with newborns, such as irritability or shaking.

“My doctor prescribed me Piriton when I was suffering badly with hay fever earlier in the year,” says forum mum-to-be Beemummy. “She said not to take any of the ones you buy over the counter, especially the 1-a-day ones. I was impressed that there was something I could take as I was expecting to be sent home with nothing as I thought all antihisthamines were banned in pregnancy.”

What natural remedies I can try for hay fever in pregnancy?

There are lots of non-medical strategies you can employ to reduce the triggering effect of pollen on your body. Natalie Masters, who is an expert pharmacist at Boots. recommends that you…

  • Apply a little smear of petroleum jelly or a nasal barrier balm under your nose. It can help to trap some of the pollen when you’re out and about.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses. They can help prevent pollen entering your eyes.
  • Keep your windows closed in the morning and evening. when pollen counts are the highest (and even if it’s hot – sorry!).
  • Dry your clothes and bedsheets inside to help prevent pollen sticking to the fabric.
  • Try to avoid sitting outside in areas where there’s lots of the kind of pollen-spraying grass or trees that set you off.
  • Choose a waterproof mascara and think about wearing, yep, a panty liner. Thanks to those preg hormones, you may end up with damp pants after a sneezing session.
  • Use a sinus rinse, such as Neil Med sinus rinse, to literally wash the pollen out of your senses.
  • Take a shower before you go to bed to help wash any stray pollen from your hair and skin

About expert GP Dr Philippa Kaye

Philippa Kaye is a GP, author,  journalist and mother of 3. She specialises in children’s and women’s health, frequently appears on TV and radio, and is the author of Your Pregnancy Week by Week (Vermilion, 2010).

About our expert pharmacist Natalie Masters

Natalie Masters has been a pharmacist for Boots for over 20 years. She is a hay fever and summer allergies expert.


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