Congested Nose While Pregnant: 5 Treatment Options to Consider

    Published 26 February 2020
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    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo
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    It may not be a symptom you think of often, but being congested and pregnant is fairly common, especially in the second trimester. Keep reading for the four treatment options you should consider if you’re pregnant and congested. 

    Symptoms of nasal congestion during pregnancy

    If you have nasal congestion that lasts only a week or slightly longer, it’s likely due to a cold. You may experience the usual symptoms that come with nasal congestion, such as ear pain, fevers, headaches, facial pain, mild body aches, bad breath, and itchy eyes, mouth, throat, or nose. Because pregnancy weakens the immune system, colds are common for people who are expecting.

    However, if symptoms of congestion last longer, it may be due to a condition called pregnancy rhinitis. Signs include sneezing, painful sinuses, ear fluid buildup, and general feelings of congestion. Some people with pregnancy rhinitis experience nosebleeds from constantly blowing and scratching their nose. 

    This common condition can last for six weeks or longer, and it usually goes away after delivery. Pregnancy rhinitis occurs in around 39 percent of all pregnancies. 

    The difference between pregnancy rhinitis and a cold or the flu

    The difference between a cold and pregnancy rhinitis is both the symptoms and the length of time the symptoms are experienced. Pregnancy rhinitis lasts six weeks or longer, while a common cold usually only lasts a week. Additionally, the only symptom of pregnancy rhinitis is congestion. The flu has other symptoms, such as a fever and a sore throat.

    The effect pregnancy rhinitis can have on a mother

    Pregnancy rhinitis is sometimes called “pregnancy drip” due to the constant runny nose it causes. Often, it makes it challenging to taste or enjoy food. Pregnancy rhinitis can also make it difficult to sleep, as lying down typically makes congestion worse. 

    Being congested while pregnant isn’t something to ignore. It can have a significant impact on the quality of life, which may affect fetal development. Additionally, long-lasting congestion can lead to serious complications such as sinusitis and ear infections. 

    Causes of a congested nose while pregnant

    Pregnancy rhinitis is thought to be caused by hormonal changes. Increases in hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, and placental growth hormone can cause the lining of the nasal passage to swell, which increases mucus production. This theory is further backed up by the fact that some people report congestion symptoms during their menstrual cycles or with the use of birth control pills. 

    Some other potential causes are:

    • More blood circulates through the body during pregnancy. This can cause the blood vessels in the nose to swell, which can lead to nasal congestion. 
    • Blood flow to the mucous membranes increases, which can produce excess mucus and feelings of congestion. 
    • Sometimes the cause is a natural enlargement of the nasal veins, which can occur during pregnancy. 
    • People who have allergies pre-pregnancy are more likely to experience allergy symptoms during their pregnancy as well.

    When does nasal congestion usually start during pregnancy?

    Pregnancy rhinitis can start at any point in pregnancy, but it typically appears in the 13th or 21st week. It can last six weeks or longer, with many people experiencing it until after delivery. Usually, it will disappear within two weeks of giving birth. 

    It can take a while to identify pregnancy rhinitis. Typically, a doctor will diagnose the condition by conducting a physical examination, taking blood tests, and reviewing the patient’s medical history. 

    Ways to treat a congested nose while pregnant

    Having a congested nose while pregnant can cause discomfort, and it may last a while. Because of the negative effect pregnancy rhinitis can have on the quality of life (and indirectly the unborn child), many people who have it want to treat the condition. To be on the safe side, it is better to consult with your doctor.


    One option is decongestant pills. There are mixed reviews in the medical community about whether these pills are safe for the fetus. Some studies show that these pills result in birth defects, while others have concluded otherwise. 

    Many health care professionals don't recommend decongestant medication during pregnancy, so make sure to talk with your doctor about whether this is a safe option for you. Taking medication in the first trimester is generally not recommended for the safety of your child. 

    Spray decongestants are another option. Sprays limit the potential exposure to the baby by staying primarily around the nose. Spray medications also come in lower dosages and are typically used for shorter amounts of time. 

    Often, nasal decongestant pills or sprays only provide temporary relief. It’s always better to ask your health care provider about any medications while pregnant. 

    Saline irrigation

    Saline irrigation is a popular and safe method for clearing up a stuffy nose if you’re pregnant and congested. This method uses saltwater to wash out the nasal passages. The saltwater washes out thick or dried mucus and can help clear up sinuses and reduce post-nasal drip. To perform saline irrigation, you tilt your head over a sink and pour salt water into one nostril. As you do so, it clears out through the other nostril. Nasal irrigation can be done at home with a spray bottle, squirt bottle, or neti pot. If you make your own saline solution, be sure to use distilled or sterilized bottled water.

    Medicated nasal strips

    Medicated nasal strips are also a safe alternative that may help reduce symptoms. These strips are known to be safe for use during pregnancy; however, if you are pregnant, it’s better to speak to a health professional before use.

    Everyday tips

    Here are some other easy tips for anyone who is congested and pregnant: 

    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • Elevate your head with pillows when you go to sleep.
    • Take a warm shower or bath and stay in your bathroom afterward to breathe in the steam. (Don't go into a steam room or a very hot bath, as they’re not safe during pregnancy.) 
    • Take a warm towel and hold it over your nose and mouth, breathing through it.
    • Use a humidifier in your bedroom.
    • Try some mild to moderate exercise in an area with clean air (i.e., try to avoid areas with high levels of air pollution as it will worsen symptoms).
    • Avoid cigarette smoke and paint fumes.
    • Eat a diet rich in essential nutrients and vitamins, especially vitamin C. 
    • Gently apply a small amount of petroleum jelly in each nostril with a cotton swab to relieve dryness when it occurs. 
    • Try to get plenty of rest. 
    • Avoid spaces that seem to trigger your congestion, especially if your congestion is allergy-related. 

    What to avoid

    Pregnancy rhinitis that’s caused by allergies requires different treatment. Some allergy medications are safe for use during pregnancy, but consult with a doctor before taking any medication.

    When to see a doctor about a congested nose during pregnancy

    If you’re pregnant and congested, you should see a doctor when:

    • Your symptoms affect your everyday life, such as your ability to sleep.
    • You experience pain or discomfort.
    • You are considering taking medication.
    • Your symptoms have lasted more than two weeks.

    The takeaway

    Being pregnant and congested is no fun. Don’t downplay your symptoms as “just congestion.” Pregnancy rhinitis can affect your quality of life and your baby’s health. Listen to your body, and consult with a doctor about your symptoms. If you’re congested while pregnant or are suffering from pregnancy rhinitis, there are solutions that may relieve some of your symptoms. 

    History of updates

    Current version (26 February 2020)

    Reviewed by Tanya Tantry, MD, Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Medical Consultant at Flo

    Published (26 February 2020)

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