According to most research, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of pregnant women will suffer from extra phlegm at some point during their pregnancy. It’s usually most common in the first trimester, and in almost all cases will go away completely soon after labor and delivery. It’s usually caused by hormonal shifts that trigger inflammation in the nasal passageways. Certain medications can sometimes help alleviate the symptoms, but not always, and most healthcare providers recommend home remedies over medical cures in order to avoid unnecessary risks to the developing fetus. The condition isn’t usually anything people should worry about, though it can be disconcerting and uncomfortable.
Basics of Phlegm
Phlegm is basically mucus that occurs in the body’s respiratory system — namely the lungs, the throat, and the sinuses. Some amount of mucus is important, since it’s one of the main ways the body filters out foreign particles like dust and dirt that get breathed in. People often produce more when they’re sick, too, since the sticky substance can help flush out bacteria and other harmful cells. In pregnancy, though, extra phlegm is usually caused by hormone shifts that trigger irritation somewhere along the respiratory tract.
Why It Happens
Pregnancy causes a number of complicated changes to a woman’s body, both physically and neurologically. The sometimes radical shifts and spikes in hormone levels can lead to a number of seemingly unrelated side effects. Extra phlegm is one of these.
As the placenta that protects the fetus develops, a woman’s body typically produces large amounts of estrogen. Estrogen is known to increase production of mucus and can cause mucus to thicken or thin out to varying degrees. It is also thought to cause inflammation in the bony structures that hold mucosa inside the nose, which can lead to breathing problems. Women who are taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy might experience similar episodes of increased phlegm, but in all cases it tends to go away or at least calm once hormone levels are stabilized. This is one of the main reasons that women who experience extra phlegm in pregnancy often have the most intense symptoms in the first trimester, and it rarely lasts for more than about six weeks.
Extra phlegm in pregnancy is common enough that it has its own name: “pregnancy rhinitis.” It is not usually considered dangerous to the mother or her developing child, but it can cause uncomfortable symptoms that can affect daily living. The most common of these include persistent coughing, nasal itching, congestion and sneezing. For many women, these symptoms affect quality of sleep more than most other areas of life.
Pregnancy rhinitis can occur at any time during pregnancy, though symptoms usually go away on their own within two weeks of giving birth without the need of medications. Just the same, not all women want to wait for the arrival of their child in order to find relief. Most medical experts don’t recommend that women take standard nasal decongestants or cold medications during pregnancy because of possible risks and side effects to the developing fetus, and there’s also little evidence that these sorts of medications would actually work since the phlegm isn’t usually caused by anything that can be cured without upsetting hormone levels. Antihistamines, which are commonly used in allergy relief, are sometimes effective in the short term since they reduce inflammation, but any woman considering this would be wise to talk with a healthcare expert first to discuss any possible risks.
Nasal saline irrigation is one of the most common home remedies, and is usually also one of the safest treatment options. The method involves using a saline wash to break down mucus and remove it from the nasal passageways. It can either be injected into the nasal passageways or poured using a special pot or container.
Many women find that they can reduce their symptoms and flare-ups by making a few lifestyle changes. Staying properly hydrated is generally a good idea in pregnancy anyway, and can help relieve phlegm by keeping the respiratory tract moisturized. Dry throat and lung conditions often trigger the production of more mucus, which a person suffering from excess phlegm doesn’t usually want. Avoiding environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke can also help, as can sleeping with the head propped up on a pillow. Regular exercise can also stimulate lung function, which in some cases can slow phlegm production.