Asthma is a breathing disorder characterized by recurrent airway obstruction that affects 15 to 16 million Americans, half of them female. It can be triggered by allergy, infection, chemical exposure, drug complications, vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) or other problems. Asthma complicates pregnancy in only about 1% of cases, but about 1 woman in 100 has asthma develop as a result of pregnancy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When asthmatics become pregnant, about 25% find that their symptoms get worse, 25% report that they improve and 50% report no change.
If you find during your first pregnancy that you're one of the unlucky ones whose asthma worsens, you're likely to react the same way during any future pregnancies. Happily, most asthma medications don't have adverse effects on a developing fetus, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, so they can be continued during pregnancy. Nevertheless, check with your health-care provider to make sure that any oral or inhaled drugs you may be taking are not an exception. Do not start or stop taking any asthma medication while you are pregnant, unless you speak with your doctor first. Women with asthma usually can expect a normal pregnancy and delivery.
To help control your asthma while you're pregnant, try these tactics:
- Identify and avoid your asthma triggers, which may include cigarette smoke, dust, mold, mildew, fragrances, certain foods or some medications.
- Allergy-proof your home by removing dust-collecting drapes and carpets, where possible. Ban smoking from inside your house. Take other measures advised by your allergist, such as getting rid of feather pillows or quilts; installing a dehumidifier to decrease dampness and mold, if necessary; or giving away pets you're allergic to.
- If pollen is a problem, stay inside during the early morning, when counts are highest. Use an air conditioner to filter the air you breathe during high pollen months.
- Work with your doctor to devise an effective asthma-control plan and to find the best medications for your condition.