A pregnant person holding a blue asthma inhaler.
One-third of pregnant women with asthma found that their symptoms became worse during pregnancy.

Asthma and Pregnancy

Asthma is a long-term or chronic lung disease that makes the airways inflamed. When the airways become inflamed and swollen, they also constrict or narrow. Excess mucus is also often produced. The combination of changes in the airways leads to asthma symptoms, including trouble breathing, wheezing and chest tightness. Due to these symptoms, asthma and pregnancy can be a tricky situation that needs proper care and monitoring.

Individuals who have asthma have airways that are more sensitive than other people without the disease. The result is their lungs may react to certain things by becoming inflamed and swollen.

How Asthma May Affect You When You’re Pregnant

Asthma symptoms may still occur during pregnancy. Usually, asthma is a lifelong disease, but symptoms may come and go. For example, for some people, asthma is at its worst during childhood. For others, asthma attacks occur only seasonally due to allergies.

Similar to when you are not pregnant, asthma attacks may also occur during pregnancy for the same reasons. For example, exposure to allergens, respiratory infections and exercise may all cause a flare-up of asthma.
Pregnancy may also lead to increased asthma symptoms for a few other reasons. Changes in hormone levels may trigger an increase in symptoms for some women. Pregnancy may also be a stressful time for some women. Stress is an asthma trigger in certain instances.

Are Asthma Symptoms the Same in Pregnancy?

The severity of symptoms and frequency of attacks may vary for pregnant women. According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, asthma symptoms become worse for about one-third of pregnant women, improve for about one-third and remain the same for one-third.

Asthma symptoms tend to be the same, whether you are pregnant or not:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Increased mucus
  • Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath may seem more severe in pregnant women. There’s also a greater chance of having an asthma attack than the general population. As a woman’s pregnancy progresses and her uterus expands, it pushes up towards her diaphragm.

It’s very common for women to feel short of breath in the later stages of pregnancy even if they do not have any form of lung disease. When you combine pregnancy shortness of breath with constriction and inflammation of the airways, it can cause increased trouble breathing for pregnant women.

Health Risks of Asthma and Pregnancy

When an asthma attack occurs, it can lead to decreased oxygen levels for both you and your unborn baby. Low oxygen levels can affect healthy fetal development and growth.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, having asthma may lead to certain complications during pregnancy:

  • Delivering early
  • Low birth weight
  • Preeclampsia

Asthma Treatment Options During Pregnancy

As with taking any medications during pregnancy, it is vital to talk with your doctor. Depending on the severity of your asthma, your doctor may only prescribe fast-acting bronchodilators to use as needed for sudden symptoms.

In other instances, especially if asthma is persistent, long-acting bronchodilators or steroids may be prescribed to prevent severe or frequent symptoms.

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Risks of Taking Asthma Medication During Pregnancy

Concern over taking asthma medications during pregnancy is common. Many women may wonder if asthma drugs are safe during pregnancy. According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, the consequences of uncontrolled asthma are worse than the possible risks of taking prescribed asthma medications. That means if you are having an asthma attack, you are better off taking the asthma medications your doctors prescribed than avoiding the medications and possibly having a worsening attack.

Certain asthma medications may pose a greater risk than others. For example, systemic steroids, which may be given during an acute asthma attack, have been linked to possible pregnancy complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, most asthma medication is safe during pregnancy, but steroids are associated with an increased incidence of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and infant clefts.

Keep in mind, untreated asthma attacks can lead to decreased oxygen levels in the body. If your oxygen levels are reduced, it means your baby is also not getting enough oxygen.

Preventing Asthma Attacks During Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, your best bet is to try to prevent asthma flare-ups as much as possible. The more you prevent an attack, the less medication you may need to take.

Get Prenatal Care

Getting early and regular prenatal care is essential for both mom and baby. During prenatal visits, asthma symptoms should also be assessed to make sure it is well managed.

Avoid Triggers

To decrease the risk of asthma attacks, women who are pregnant should try to reduce triggers as much as possible. Triggers may include allergens, such as dust, pollen, or mold.

Not Smoking

Smoking is bad for your overall health, and it can also increase the risk of pregnancy complications. Smoking can also trigger asthma symptoms in some people.

Get Your Flu Shot

Respiratory infections are a common trigger of asthma symptoms. Most pregnant women are advised to get their flu shot.

Stay Away From People Who Are Sick

Colds and the flu can trigger an asthma attack. Take precautions to avoid getting sick, such as frequent handwashing and staying away from people who are sick.