Though always a joyful experience, pregnancy can also be a frightening time for some women. If you are an asthma sufferer, you may be particularly worried about the health and wellbeing of your child throughout the next nine months. When managed carefully, maternal asthma does not appear to pose any risk to your child. However, there are dangers associated with uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy. Here are some tips on what to expect with your asthma throughout these upcoming three trimesters.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects a personï¿½s airways. If you have asthma, the walls of your airways become swollen and inflamed, making it difficult for you to carry air in and out of your body. As your airways become swollen, the passageway through which oxygen travels becomes narrower, making it difficult to take in adequate amounts of air. This can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms and, when serious, can even become life threatening. Currently, more than 20 million American men, women, and children, suffer from varying degrees of asthma.
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma is usually accompanied by a number of symptoms. Depending upon the severity of your asthma, you may experience symptoms as little as once a month, or as frequently as every day. Asthma symptoms include:
- wheezing (characterized by a whistling noise coming from the throat when you breathe)
- tightness in the chest
- shortness of breath
- difficult breathing (especially late at night or early in the morning)
Asthma symptoms commonly occur out-of-the-blue, in what is known as an asthma attack. Asthma attacks occur when the muscles around the airway suddenly tighten, causing the airway to narrow severely. This can make it difficult to get in enough oxygen, and, when severe, can result in death.
How Common is Asthma During Pregnancy?
Asthma also frequently occurs during pregnancy. In fact, between 3.7% and 8.4% of all pregnant women experience asthma during pregnancy. Often referred to as maternal asthma, this type of asthma is usually a continuation of breathing problems that were present prior to pregnancy, typically during childhood.
Is Asthma During Pregnancy Dangerous?
Asthma that remains uncontrolled during pregnancy can be very dangerous for both you and your baby. Uncontrolled asthma increases your risk for having:
This is because women with uncontrolled asthma often have lower levels of oxygen in their blood. As a result, your baby may not be receiving adequate amounts of oxygen needed to ensure proper development. Severe asthma symptoms or attacks can result in the death of both mother and child.
Will Your Asthma Change During Pregnancy?
Depending upon the severity of your asthma and the type of pregnancy you experience, your asthma symptoms may or may not change over the nine months of pregnancy. According to one recent study, 35% of pregnant women found that their asthma symptoms became worse during pregnancy. However, 33% found that their symptoms remained the same, while 28% found that they actually improved. The study did seem to confirm that maternal asthma symptoms became worse during the end of the second trimester and throughout the third trimester. However, asthma symptoms also appear to ease during the final four weeks of pregnancy and throughout labor and delivery.
Are Asthma Medications Safe During Pregnancy?
The majority of asthma medications appear to be safe for use during pregnancy. The best thing that you can do for yourself and for your baby is to keep your asthma in control, and if this means taking your asthma medication, then you should do so. The effects of a severe asthma attack are much more detrimental to both you and your baby than the effects of your asthma medications. Of course, speak with your health care provider before taking any medications during your pregnancy. However, the following medications are thought to be safe to take during pregnancy:
- Thephylline (in doses between 5 and 12 mcg/mL)
- Inhaled Corticosteroids
When taken during the first trimester, oral corticosteroids have been associated with increased risk for cleft lip and palate, and also appear to increase your risk for preeclampsia and preterm labor. Consult with your health care provider before taking any oral corticosteroids during pregnancy.
Controlling Your Asthma During Pregnancy
Asthma control should be a high priority throughout your pregnancy. Here are some tips on how to keep your asthma symptoms at safe levels:
- Avoid Asthma Triggers: Asthma triggers, including cigarette smoke, animal dander, dust mites, mold, pollen, and certain chemicals can all make your symptoms worse. Do your best to avoid these triggers and eliminate them from your home and work environments.
- Find Your Peak Airflow: You can measure the strength with which you breath in and out by using a peak airflow meter. This is a hand-held device, which you blow into as hard as you can. The meter will then provide you with a measurement of how fast air moves out of your airways. Measure your airflow for a few weeks and record your best values. Try to ensure that all subsequent values are within reach of this measurement.
- Be Careful when Exercising: Exercise often acts as a trigger for some asthmatics. Though exercise is recommended during pregnancy, exercise could increase your risk for experiencing an asthma attack, which could threaten you and your baby. Speak with your health care provider before engaging in any exercise routine.
- Take Your Medications If your maternal asthma requires medication, be sure that you take your medicines. Under doctor supervision, asthma treatment can help to reduce your risk of suffering a dangerous or fatal asthma attack during pregnancy.