If you can’t step outside without sneezing, chances are seasonal allergies are to blame. Pregnancy can cause enough symptoms as it is. But adding an itchy nose to an itchy belly can make for a long trimester.

Seasonal allergies cause symptoms, including:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • itching
  • runny nose

The condition can affect your breathing. So can pregnancy. Fortunately, there are many safe treatments you can use to relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.

You need to be careful of the medications you take and other treatments during pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about treating seasonal allergies.

Your body’s immune system ideally fights against “bad guys” like flu viruses, colds, and other infection-causing organisms that seek to make you sick. But sometimes, your immune system reacts to things that really aren’t all that harmful to you. This is the case with seasonal allergies.

Seasonal allergies occur when your body reacts to allergens that tend to show up in a certain season. Seasonal allergies are usually your body’s reaction to pollen. Pollen is a powdery substance that forms the male sperms cells that fertilize plants so they can reproduce.

Common culprits of seasonal allergies include:

  • cocklebur
  • grasses
  • molds
  • pigweed
  • ragweed
  • trees
  • tumbleweed

Depending on where you live, spring allergies can pop up around February and end in early summer. Fall allergies can take place in late summer and continue until late fall.

Pregnancy can make seasonal allergies worse. Also, a condition called “rhinitis of pregnancy” can cause similar symptoms to seasonal allergies. This usually occurs in the last trimester. But the cause of rhinitis of pregnancy is extra hormones, not allergens.

Moms-to-be with seasonal allergies can use several at-home treatments to relieve their symptoms. Some examples include:

  • Creating a saline nasal spray by combining 8 ounces of warm water with 1/4 salt to the water. You can add this to a spray or squeeze bottle to irrigate and soothe irritated nasal passages. Neti pots are another option.
  • Watching news reports and checking pollen counts daily. During episodes of large pollen counts, pregnant women can avoid too much time outdoors to keep exposure down.
  • Avoiding going outdoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., the times when pollen counts are usually the highest.
  • Taking showers and changing clothing after being outside. This can help remove pollen that builds up on hair and clothing.
  • Wearing a protective filter mask when doing outdoor activities like mowing the lawn or gardening.
  • Wearing over-the-counter nasal strips at night. These position the nasal passages so they’re more open. This reduces a person’s symptoms.

If you can avoid whatever’s causing your seasonal allergies, you can often keep your symptoms at bay.

Most pregnant women can safely take over-the-counter allergy medications. Examples of medications that have research to support that they’re safe for pregnant women to take (as of currently available data) include:

  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • chlorpheniramine (ChlorTrimeton)
  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • loratadine (Claritin)

There are always risks when taking any medication during pregnancy. Women should talk with their doctors before taking allergy medicines to make sure they aren’t potentially harmful.

While doctors consider many oral over-the-counter medications safe for seasonal allergies, using both oral and nasal spray decongestants isn’t as studied or well-known.

Use of nasal sprays may be safer than oral decongestants. That’s because nasal sprays aren’t as likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream. An example is oxymetazoline, an ingredient in brands like Afrin and Neo-Synephrine.

Women should exercise caution when using nasal sprays for more than three days. This is because using decongestants for longer can make allergy symptoms worse by causing nasal swelling.

Some women also get allergy shots. These are compounds of allergens that are injected as a means to desensitize a person to an allergen. If a woman becomes pregnant while she is in the course of her allergy shots, she can usually keep getting them.

Pregnancy isn’t a good time to start getting allergy shots. It’s possible they can cause strong allergic reactions. Without knowing a woman’s reaction, it’s best to delay starting allergy shots until after giving birth.

Doctors haven’t widely studied some medicines regarding their safety in pregnancy. This is because it isn’t ethical to perform testing on pregnant women. As a result, most information about medications is due to reports and knowledge about general medication safety.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI), several medications aren’t considered safe. During the first trimester, it’s especially important to consider the potential risks and benefits because the baby is developing the most then.

Unsafe treatments during pregnancy include:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): While some studies found that pseudoephedrine is safe in pregnancy, there have been reports of an increase in abdominal wall defects in the babies of mothers who used the medication during pregnancy, according to the ACAAI.
  • Phenylephrine and phenylpropanolamine: These decongestants are considered “less desirable” than taking pseudoephedrine, according to the ACAAI.

If your seasonal allergy symptoms have made sleep evasive or are interfering with your daily activities, treatments are available that are likely safe for you and baby.

Always talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding medications. You can also read medication labels carefully to ensure your medicines don’t have a warning for pregnant women (manufacturers are legally required to list their pregnancy safety information).

If you have questions on specific allergy medicines, visit the website MotherToBaby.org. This site is operated by the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, whose members study medication safety for pregnant and breast-feeding moms.

Pregnancy and seasonal allergies are self-limiting conditions. Your due date will come and blooming season will end. It’s important you stay as comfortable as possible while you navigate both.