Are antihistamines for hayfever 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 suffer at some point from hayfever, and yep, you guessed it, when you’re pregnant your symptoms may be worse than normal, due to those pesky preg hormones.

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 hayfever is with a steroid nasal spray as opposed to an oral antihistamine,” explains MFM’s 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.

What if they don’t work?

“After discussion and depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, your doctor may agree to antihistamines,” adds 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, whether you’re prescribed anything is likely to depend on your doctor’s opinion – not all are comfortable prescribing antihistamines.

“I went to docs today re hayfever as I normally take cetirizine and was told to avoid it during pregnancy. Doctor wasn’t helpful and was very reluctant to give me anything,” shares mummypiglit. “Finally prescribed me Opticrom eye drops and Rynacrom nasal spray.

“I have been prescribed cetirizine hydrochloride today as I am suffering badly from hayfever, which then aggravates my already severe eczema. I am 4 weeks pregnant now,” says Katerina. “If you get a rash and are constantly itching and sneezing and crying, this is definitely not good for your baby. My doctor is saying this medication is least harmful and gave me a prescription for 60 days. If your body needs help – it means your body needs help. No reason to sit and suffer too much. After all, if you keep it untreated, your skin rash gets really bad, you itch even more and then get infection into your blood.”

“I was prescribed Piriton,” says Blue_Star. “Still only use it when absolutely desperate though. Seems very few GPs will prescribe anything at all but I have been lucky with mine.”

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.

US research in 2012 reviewing the use of antihistamines when pregnant explains that while none of the antihistamines have been given an FDA safe rating, that doesn’t mean they are a complete no-go.

The sedating oral antihistamine chlorphenamine is also considered ok to take during pregnancy, but is generally avoided 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 (chlorphenamine) when I was suffering badly with hayfever earlier in the year,” says Beemummy. “She said not to take any of the ones you buy over the counter especially the one-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.

Any natural remedies I can try?

Boots Pharmacist Angela Chalmers recommends some non-medicinal remedies that might help reduce hay fever symptoms:

  • Take a shower before you go to bed to help wash any stray pollen from your hair and skin,
  • Apply a little smear of petroleum jelly or a nasal barrier balm under your nose. That’s right – it can help to trap some of the pollen when you’re out and about
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses as they can help prevent pollen entering your eyes
  • Keep your windows closed in the morning and evening when pollen counts are the highest – even though it’s going to raise the temperature
  • Dry your clothes and bedsheets inside to help prevent pollen sticking to the fabric
  • Try to avoid areas where there’s lots of grass or trees that set you off – you may be pounding concrete pavements for a while
  • Sneezing a lot? 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

Mums on our forum say

“Sometimes pregnancy can bring these conditions on, something that you may never have had before. I know I didn’t have hayfever until after I had my first baby.” Audrey1234

“I’ve been taking the nasal spray and it worked a treat until this morning and now I can only breathe through my mouth. I think I might’ve irritated my wind pipe with excessive sneezing and now have a wheeze/cough. I’ve never blown my nose quite so much!” d7p

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